Lt. governor pushing for fix to Georgia’s criminal database gaps

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Judges, prosecutors say they can’t trust system because millions of records lack outcomes

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan announced plans Thursday to try to fix Georgia’s criminal records system, which is filled with information gaps that hamper public safety.

“As the nation grapples with rising crime, all facets of the judicial system must be properly equipped to respond immediately and effectively,” Duncan said in a statement announcing his plan.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this week that the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC) database of criminal histories is unreliable because it is missing critical information on the outcome of millions of criminal charges.

For more than 1 in 4 charges in the statewide system — covering nearly 7 million entries — no disposition has been entered.

Judges and prosecutors say they can’t trust the system when trying to determine whether someone has a criminal history. Employers trying to do background checks may also get incomplete information, and citizens applying for jobs or housing may be hurt when the system doesn’t show that a charge was dropped.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation manages GCIC, but law enforcement and courts across the state feed all the information into the system.

Duncan said the state would try to improve the system through legislation called the “Criminal Record Responsibility Act.” The legislation is expected to be introduced next week and sponsored by Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia. The plan calls for changing the requirements for submitting information to GCIC and awarding grants to pay for technology upgrades for local agencies that submit information to the database.

Credit: Bita Honarvar

Credit: Bita Honarvar

In Fulton County alone, the criminal records system has no final outcomes recorded for more than 1.5 million charges, about 40% of all the Fulton charges in the database, the AJC found. About 19,000 charges with missing information are for serious violent felonies.

The vast majority of the charges without dispositions entered have dragged on for so long without updates that potential employers and licensing agencies cannot even see the serious charges when they check a job candidate’s record.