Skip navigation
Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual - Header

Bojs Privacy Technology and Criminaal Justice-information 2001

Download original document:
Brief thumbnail
This text is machine-read, and may contain errors. Check the original document to verify accuracy.
U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs

Bureau of Justice Statistics

Privacy, Technology and Criminal
Justice Information
Public Attitudes Toward Uses of
Criminal History Information
Summary of Survey Findings

i

U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs
Bureau of Justice Statistics

Public Attitudes Toward
Uses of Criminal History
Information
A Privacy, Technology, and Criminal Justice
Information Report

July 2001, NCJ 187663

U.S. Department of Justice
Bureau of Justice Statistics
Lawrence A. Greenfeld
Acting Director
This report was commissioned by SEARCH, The National Consortium for Justice Information
and Statistics, Kenneth E. Bischoff, Chairman, and Gary R. Cooper, Executive Director. The
project director was Sheila J. Barton, Deputy Executive Director. Opinion Research Corporation
International conducted the research and prepared the main report presenting the survey findings.
Dr. Alan F. Westin, Columbia University, wrote the Commentary section. Twyla R. Cunningham,
Manager, Corporate Communications, and Jane L. Bassett, Publishing Specialist, provided
editing, layout, and design assistance. The Federal project monitor was Carol G. Kaplan, Chief,
Criminal History Improvement Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Report of work performed under BJS Cooperative Agreement No. 96-BJ-CX-K010 awarded to
SEARCH Group, Incorporated, 7311 Greenhaven Drive, Suite 145, Sacramento, California
95831. Contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Bureau of
Justice Statistics or the U.S. Department of Justice.
Copyright © SEARCH, The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics, 2001
The U.S. Department of Justice authorizes any person to reproduce, publish, translate, or
otherwise use all or any part of the copyrighted material in the publication with the exception of
those items indicating that they are copyrighted by or reprinted by permission of any source other
than SEARCH, The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics.

iii

Contents
Background and purpose.......................................................................................................... 1
Methodology ................................................................................................................................. 2
Study design............................................................................................................................... 2
Sampling .................................................................................................................................... 2
Data collection ........................................................................................................................... 3
Weighting................................................................................................................................... 3
Executive summary..................................................................................................................... 4
Overview.................................................................................................................................... 4
General privacy issues ............................................................................................................... 4
Attitudes toward the criminal justice system ............................................................................. 4
Criminal history records............................................................................................................. 5
Fair information practices .......................................................................................................... 5
The role of the private sector ..................................................................................................... 6
Juveniles, ex-offenders, and fingerprinting ............................................................................... 6
Commentary: Balancing privacy and public uses of criminal history
information — what the survey tells us.............................................................................. 7
The public’s concerns about privacy, 1970-1999 ...................................................................... 7
The privacy survey in context.................................................................................................... 7
Comparisons with other privacy surveys ................................................................................... 9
Patterns reflected in survey findings........................................................................................ 10
Detailed findings ........................................................................................................................ 13
Reading notes........................................................................................................................... 13
Foundations.............................................................................................................................. 15
Privacy concerns................................................................................................................ 16
Experience with invasions of privacy................................................................................ 17
Internet usage..................................................................................................................... 18
Perceptions of personal information available on the Internet.......................................... 19
Experience with the American legal and criminal justice systems ................................... 20
Knowledge of the criminal justice system......................................................................... 23
Attitudes toward the criminal justice system..................................................................... 25
Attitudes toward uses of criminal history record information
outside the criminal justice system ....................................................................................... 29
Awareness and general attitudes ....................................................................................... 30
Access by employers and government licensing agencies ................................................ 32
Access to criminal history records by organizations other
than employers and licensing agencies........................................................................... 36
Fair information practices.................................................................................................. 37
Use and distribution of criminal justice records by
commercial enterprises and other organizations ............................................................ 38

v

Juvenile records ................................................................................................................. 40
Sealing the records of ex-offenders................................................................................... 42
Uses of fingerprinting........................................................................................................ 43
Posting of information on the Internet............................................................................... 45
Summary of factors influencing attitudes toward the use of
criminal history records ........................................................................................................ 47
Overview ........................................................................................................................... 48
Experience/Attitudinal summary....................................................................................... 49
Demographic profile.......................................................................................................... 57
Appendix 1: Sampling variations and tolerances............................................................. 59
Reliability of survey percentages............................................................................................. 60
Sampling tolerances when comparing two samples ................................................................ 61
Appendix 2: Questionnaire ..................................................................................................... 63

vi

Background and purpose
This report presents the findings
of a telephone survey conducted
in February and March 2000
among a national probability
sample of 1,030 adults 18 years
of age and older, living in
private households in the
continental United States.
SEARCH, acting with Dr. Alan
Westin, a well-respected expert
on issues of privacy and the use
of personal information,
commissioned Opinion
Research Corporation
International (ORC
International) to conduct this
research. The primary purpose
of the study is to assess public
attitudes toward the availability
and use of individuals’ criminal
history records outside of the
criminal justice system.

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 1

Methodology
This report presents the findings
of a telephone survey conducted
among a national probability
sample of 1,030 adults,
comprised of 520 men and 510
women, 18 years of age and
older, living in private
households in the continental
United States. Results based on
the total population have a
margin of sampling error of plus
or minus 3 percentage points at
the 95% confidence level.
Included in the Appendixes,
which follow the body of this
report, are tables of sampling
tolerances of survey results and
a copy of the survey
questionnaire.1
As required by the Code of
Standards of the Council of
American Survey Research
Organizations, we will maintain
the anonymity of our
respondents. No information
will be released that in any way
will reveal the identity of a
respondent. ORC International
has exercised its best efforts in
the preparation of this
information. In any event, ORC
International assumes no
responsibility for any use that is
made of this information or any
decisions based upon it.

1

Appendix 1, which contains tables of
sampling variations and tolerances,
begins on Page 59. Appendix 2, which
contains the questionnaire, begins on
Page 63.

Page 2

Study design
Dr. Westin, in consultation with
SEARCH, provided the basic
design for the research and for
the survey instrument itself.
ORC International, drawing on
its 6 decades of experience in
public opinion research,
provided input on methodology
and questionnaire design.

Sampling
Probability sampling techniques
were employed in the selection
of households for telephone
interviewing. ORC International
utilizes an unrestricted random
sampling procedure that
controls the amount of serial
bias found in systematic
sampling to generate its
random-digit-dial sample. The
sample was fully replicated and
stratified by region. Only one
interview is conducted per
household. All sample numbers
selected were subject to up to
four attempts to complete an
interview.
ORC International’s national
probability telephone sample is
an efficient form of randomdigit-dialing (RDD). The
sample is designed to be a
simple random sample of
telephone households. Unlike
published directories, ORC
International’s national
probability telephone sample
includes both unlisted numbers

and numbers issued after
publication of the directories.
The following procedure was
used to create the sample:
• ORC International has an
annual license for
GENESYS, a custom RDD
sample generation system
developed by Marketing
Systems Groups.
• The methodology for
generating RDD telephone
samples in the GENESYS
system provides for a single
stage, Equal Probability of
Selection Method (EPSEM)
sample of residential
telephone numbers. It is
updated twice a year.
• When a national probability
sample is needed, a random
selection is made from
approximately 40,000
exchanges in 2 million
working banks.
• Each telephone number is
transferred to a separate call
record. The record shows the
computer-generated
telephone number to be
called, as well as the county,
State, and time zone into
which the telephone number
falls. Our computer-assisted
telephone interviewing
system (CATI) uses this
information to keep track of
regional quotas. The CATI
interviewing program also
keeps track of the disposition
categories for each call
attempt.

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Data collection

Weighting

Interviewing for this survey was
completed during the period
February 22-March 9, 2000. All
data collection efforts took
place at ORC International’s
Central Telephone Facilities in
Tucson, Arizona, and Tampa,
Florida. All ORC International’s
interviewers complete an
intensive training and test
period. Additionally, they attend
follow-up training classes that
cover advanced screening
techniques, in-depth probing,
and the art of refusal avoidance.
Interviewers are continuously
supervised, monitored, and
reviewed in order to maintain
the highest quality interviewing
standards.

Completed interviews were
weighted by four variables: age,
sex, geographic region, and
race, to help ensure reliable and
accurate representation of the
total population, 18 years of age
and older. The raw data were
weighted by a proprietary
program that automatically
develops a weighting factor for
each respondent. In this
program, each respondent is
assigned a single weight derived
from the relationship between
the actual proportion of the
population with its specific
combination of age, sex,
geographic characteristics, and
race, and the proportion in the
sample. Proportional targets for
the population were based on
the 1998 Current Population
Survey (U.S. Census Bureau).
The tables included in this
report show unweighted bases.

All interviews were conducted
using ORC International’s
CATI system. The system is
state-of-the-art and offers
several distinct advantages, such
as: full-screen control that
allows multi-question screens,
fully programmable help and
objection screens to aid
interviewing, an extremely
flexible telephone number
management system, and
powerful data-checking
facilities. CATI ensures that
interviews are conducted in the
most efficient manner and
allows interviewers easy
response recording. This
interviewing method also allows
for the most accurate form of
data entry by guiding the
interviewer through the
programmed question flow and
by providing on-screen
interviewer instructions.

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 3

Executive summary
Overview
There is substantial public (that
is, adult) support for making
certain types of criminal justice
records available outside the
criminal justice system when
there is a perceived rationale of
public benefit and/or safety.
Support declines noticeably
when the goal is purely private.
In general, American adults tend
to favor making individual
conviction records available to
employers, governmental
licensing agencies, and other
entities. They are far more
reluctant, however, to support
access to arrest-only (or arrest
without conviction) records.

General privacy
issues
Turning first to underlying
attitudes toward privacy, the
results indicate that the misuse
of personal information is a
major concern. Nearly all (90%)
of adult Americans are
concerned about the possible
misuse of personal information,
with 64% expressing a high
level of concern (“very
concerned”) and 25% saying
they are “somewhat” or
moderately concerned. Ten
percent express either little or
no concern about possible
misuse of personal information.
When asked if they have ever
been victims of an improper
invasion of privacy by specific
types of organizations, a total of
38% say that they have been
victimized by at least one of the
following:

Page 4

• a business collecting and
using information (25%)
• a charitable, political, or
nonprofit organization (13%)
• a law enforcement agency
(12%)
• a government tax, social
service, welfare, or license
agency (10%).
Fifty-two percent of adults
believe that anyone’s credit
reports or criminal
conviction record (49%) may be
purchased via the Internet.
Approximately 4 in 10 adults
believe that they can obtain
anyone’s Social Security
number (42%), credit card
number (39%), or arrest record
(38%). Thirty-six percent
believe that bank balances are
for sale on-line.

Attitudes toward the
criminal justice
system
Thirteen percent of the adult
public say that they “know a
great deal” about the American
criminal justice system —
defined as the way police,
prosecutors, courts, and defense
counsel work. Most adults
(57%) report that “they know
the basics.” The balance either
“don’t know very much”(23%)
or “don’t know anything at all”
(6%).

Overall, Americans give the
criminal justice system fair
grades in executing key
functions.
• Majorities rate the system as
“very or somewhat effective”
in:
—investigating and arresting
persons suspected of
committing crimes (79%)
—prosecuting accused
persons (73%)
—reaching a just outcome in
criminal trials (68%).
• However, fewer than 2 out of
10 adults rate the system as
very effective in any of these
areas, and a substantial group
of adults — approximately
one-quarter of the population
— sees the criminal justice
system as not very effective.
About one-half (53%) give
the system a “very or
somewhat effective” rating in
all three areas, 24% gave that
rating in two areas, while
another 24% said the system
is very or somewhat effective
in either only one (10%) or
none (14%) of these areas.
The proportions are similar
when it comes to perceptions
about how well the system
respects the civil liberties and
constitutional rights of suspects.
Seventy percent say the system
does either very well (24%) or
somewhat well (46%), while
about one-quarter say it does not
do very well (19%) or not well
at all (8%).

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Six out of 10 adults report
having had their fingerprints
taken for some sort of
identification purpose, such as
military service or a job
application or government
license. Most (87%) felt that
fingerprinting was an
appropriate requirement.

Criminal history
records
Conviction records
Americans view individuals’
criminal history records as
confidential information and
favor some restriction in access.
• 47% prefer what was labeled
as a “partially open system,”
where only conviction
records are freely available to
everyone. Another 37% favor
a restricted system, where
access is limited only to
selected users. Only 12%
favor a completely open
system — one with both
arrest and conviction records
freely available.
• Most adults (90%) say they
prefer that State agencies not
use the Internet to post
criminal history information
that is already a matter of
public record.
A substantial majority of the
public supports access to
conviction records by various
organizations outside the
criminal justice system where
there is some public safety
and/or crime prevention interest.
Where private interests are at
stake, support for access to
conviction records drops to
about the 40% level.

• Approximately 9 out of 10
adults would allow some
access to conviction records
by potential employers or to
government occupational
licensing agencies. However,
a majority (11 out of 20)
believes that right of access
should be linked to whether
the position involves
sensitive work, such as
handling money, dealing with
children, or serving as
security guards.
• Large majorities favor at least
some access to conviction
records for private
organizations, such as the
Boy Scouts of America, that
work with children (88%),
for the military to evaluate
potential recruits (82%), and
for insurance companies
investigating fraud (76%).
Support drops for reporters
wanting to find out about
political candidates (44%),
banks deciding on personal
loan applications (41%),
individuals wanting to learn
if a neighbor has any criminal
record (38%), and companies
that issue credit cards (38%).

Arrest records
A large majority (66%) of
Americans distinguish between
access to conviction records and
access to records of persons
arrested but not convicted.
• Approximately 3 out of 10
adults would bar any access
to arrest-only records to any
employer or governmental
licensing agency. About onehalf would allow limited
access based on the
sensitivity of the position,
while only 15% would grant

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

all employers or government
licensing agencies access to
arrest-only records.
• Turning to nonemploymentrelated entities, only when it
comes to organizations that
work with children does a
majority (59%) favor any
access to arrest records.
About one-half (49%) would
allow the military to see
arrest-only records of
potential recruits, and 45%
would allow access to
insurance companies
investigating fraud. Fewer
than one-quarter of adults
favor access to arrest-only
records for reporters wanting
to find out about political
candidates (23%), banks
deciding on personal loan
applications (22%),
individuals wanting to learn
if a neighbor has any criminal
record (23%), and companies
that issue credit cards (21%).

Fair information
practices
The study reveals extremely
strong support for the
implementation of three “fair
information practices”
governing maintenance and use
of criminal history records.
• Eighty-nine percent of adults
consider it very important to
have a right to review their
records, coupled with the
right to have suspected errors
investigated and, if indeed
erroneous, corrected.
• Seventy-four percent see it as
very important that there be
an impartial procedure to
receive, investigate, and
resolve complaints

Page 5

concerning misuse of one’s
criminal history records,
and/or the failure of the
relevant agency to follow
appropriate policies.
• Fifty-five percent believe it
very important that each
person be informed when a
criminal history record is
created, how it will be used
within the criminal justice
system, and the policies
governing the record’s
availability outside the
system.

The role of the
private sector
Most adults (85%) feel that
commercial companies
maintaining and distributing
criminal history records should
follow the same rules and
procedures regarding fair
information practices as would
bind government criminal
history agencies. One out of 10
adults (11%) feels that “such
rules are not important for
private businesses.”
• There is a high level of
concern about the system of
collecting, maintaining, and
distributing criminal history
records by private companies.
Asked which statement best
reflects their own views:
—Sixty-nine percent of the
respondents chose, “It
worries me that this is
being done by commercial
organizations and I favor
this being done only by the
government.”

Page 6

—Twenty-two percent said
their views are best
reflected by the statement,
“This commercial system
provides relevant
information from public
record sources for many
important business, social,
and governmental
purposes and is OK.”
—Nine percent declined to
choose between these two
points of view.

Juveniles, exoffenders, and
fingerprinting
Opinion is divided when it
comes to the access and
publication of juvenile court
records. About one-half of
adults (53%) favor keeping
disclosure restrictions, “because
giving juvenile offenders the
chance to overcome a bad
record is a sound approach.”
Four out of 10 (40%) favor
opening juvenile records to the
same entities that have access to
adult records, “since protecting
society and the public should be
the primary concern.”
In the case of ex-offenders, the
majority (52%) favors keeping
criminal records available to
employers and licensing
agencies regardless of the length
of time that has passed since the
individual’s conviction or
release. Forty-three percent
believe access should not be
granted if a person convicted of
a crime serves his or her
sentence and then does not
violate the law for a period,
such as 5 years.

Overall, American adults appear
to consider fingerprinting for
certain governmental purposes
acceptable. However, once
private-sector entities require
fingerprinting, attitudes become
more ambiguous.
• Approximately three-quarters
of adults find fingerprinting
“very acceptable” when a
person is arrested (78%) and
when someone is applying
for a sensitive job, such as
teacher, nursing home
worker, or security guard
(77%). Ninety-four percent
and 93%, respectively, think
these practices are either very
or somewhat acceptable.
• Six out of 10 think it a very
acceptable practice to
fingerprint welfare program
recipients (62%) or to require
a thumbprint on drivers’
licenses (60%), with 86% and
80%, respectively,
responding very or somewhat
acceptable.
• On the other hand, fewer than
one-half of adults find it very
acceptable to require
fingerprints to cash a check
(45%), buy an airline ticket
(45%), or apply for a job
(37%).

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Commentary: Balancing privacy and public
uses of criminal history information —
what the survey tells us
Since 1978, I have been the
academic advisor to a steady
stream of national opinion
surveys dealing with the public
and privacy.2 Thirty of these
were done with Louis Harris
and Associates (now Harris
Interactive) and 15 with ORC
International. A major benefit of
such continuous surveying is
that, if you ask good questions
early on and then ask them year
after year, you get valuable data
on changing public perceptions
and attitudes. I can illustrate this
with two important privacy
trend lines we have tracked.

The public’s
concerns about
privacy, 1970-1999
In 1970, Harris asked
respondents to one national
survey how concerned they
were about their personal
privacy, with “very concerned,”
“somewhat concerned,” “not
very concerned,” and “not
concerned at all” as the response
categories. Thirty-four percent
of the public in 1970 said it was
concerned (a combination of the
“very” and “somewhat”
respondents).

By the time I started doing
privacy surveys with Harris in
1978, Watergate had intervened,
along with social protest
movements on the Vietnam
War, racial justice, and gender
discrimination. Reflecting the
social mood, fall of confidence
in institutions, and fears about
technology abuse that marked
the 1970s, 66% of the American
public said in our 1978
“Dimensions of Privacy” survey
that they were concerned about
threats to privacy. By 1990, we
found that the same question
produced a 78% level of
concern. And at the end of the
1990s, a survey I advised,
conducted by Harris in 1999 and
sponsored by IBM, found that
94% of the American public
now said they were concerned
about privacy threats.

A second major trend finding is
the shift from the 1970s to today
in terms of what the public
perceives as the principal threat
to its privacy. In the postWatergate era, the government
was overwhelmingly perceived
as the threat. About 75% of
survey respondents would
identify the government as
being the source for potential
threats to privacy. When we last
asked this question in the mid1990s, sentiment had already
shifted to the point where
roughly the same number of
respondents identified business
and government as equal threats
to privacy. The public was
divided roughly in half, with
half saying the government was
the greatest threat, and almost
half saying business poses the
greatest threat.

Equally important with the
dramatic 60% rise in overallprivacy-concern between 1970
and 1999 was the rise in the
“very concerned” responses. In
the 1999 IBM survey, 77% —
three-fourths of American adults
— said they were “very
concerned” about the misuse of
their personal information and
threats to their privacy.

The privacy survey in
context
In this Commentary, I am not
going to repeat the main
findings, which are presented
quite thoroughly in the main
report. My goal is to put these in
a larger context, and to offer my
interpretation of their meaning. I
start by asking two questions.

2

This Commentary section was written
by Dr. Alan F. Westin, Professor
Emeritus, Public Law and Government,
Columbia University.

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 7

First, how representative is this
survey of other privacy surveys
conducted over the last 20 or 30
years? Second, what did those
surveys teach us about how the
public makes up its mind about
the balance between privacy and
public interest? Answers to
these questions should allow us
to project how the public is
likely to react to the developing
reconsideration of public
records in general, and to uses
of criminal history information
outside the criminal justice
system in particular.
At the outset, we should note
the environment in which this
survey took place. Our survey
reflects the public’s general
sense that there are major
changes in the uses of criminal
history information in our
society as a result of advanced
information technology.3 The
criminal justice system is
deepening the records it
collects, combining them inside
the criminal justice system, and
moving into deeper retrieval
capacities, for example in the
record systems of both civil and
criminal courts. Many of these
trends are driven by statutes that
require the production of
criminal history information for
various kinds of noncriminal
justice uses, such as for
providing licensing standards
3

An overview of these “change
drivers” is documented in “Report of
the National Task Force on Privacy,
Technology and Criminal Justice
Information,” a companion report to
this survey that will be published in
Spring 2000 by the Bureau of Justice
Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice.

Page 8

for people who deal with senior
citizens, children, school
systems, and so forth.
The Brady Handgun Violence
Prevention Act is a good
example.4 The mandatory
licensing and checks for firearm
purchases illustrates the public’s
passionate concern that criminal
history information be used in
this particular noncriminal
justice focus. We also see the
rise of commercial distribution
systems that have developed
into an industry of substantial
size, collecting database
information and making it
available to a wide set of users
— employers, government
agencies, lawyers, insurance
companies, and so forth. Some
of these services are now on the
Internet, advertising that you
can locate anyone and find out
all about them, including
checking for a criminal record.
When examining a survey, it is
also useful to ask whether it is
dealing with well-developed
policy questions — where the
public feels it understands the
issue, the players, and the
options — or is it a survey that
is trying to get people to think
about some new and unfamiliar
issues and to draw on their
experiences and attitudes in
order to express some broad
preferences? In that perspective,
our survey is clearly an
anticipative rather than a
reactive survey. That is, we
know from our survey results
that only 10% of the sample
says it has been arrested for a
4

18 U.S.C. Sec. 922 et. seq.

nontraffic offense. This
represents about 20 million
adults. Of those arrestees, 57%
say their arrest resulted in a
conviction, which gives us a
database of 12.4 million persons
who would have personal
experiences with conviction
records in the criminal justice
system. While that is a big
number, it is still a very small
percentage of the total adult
population of the United States.
On the other hand, when you
deal with issues of employment
screening, occupational
licensing, and so forth, it is clear
that a majority of our
respondents can identify with
those situations and probably
have had experiences in having
record checks made for these
noncriminal justice purposes.
It is also important in
understanding our survey results
to note that use of criminal
history records outside the
criminal justice system is not as
salient a social issue today as it
was in the late 1960s and early
1970s. That was the period
many children of the Nation’s
economic and social elites were
being arrested — for social
protest, for racial
demonstrations, for anti-war
demonstrations. These were
often the children of
government officials, business
executives, and academics. The
idea that you could have an
arrest or a conviction record for
demonstrations or protests that
would stigmatize you — so that
you wouldn’t get into Princeton,
or get a job at the brokerage
house, or couldn’t be appointed
to Federal or State government

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

employment — was obviously a
great threat to the progress of
the children of the ruling class.
How large-scale arrest and
conviction records for social
protest were going to be used
became a political issue in the
late 1960s and early 1970s,
which it is not today.
But there are still populations
that feel adversely impacted by
the social uses of criminal
history information. Race is the
predominant factor here, as the
main report documents.
Minority populations feel that
the criminal justice record’s
stigmatizing effect on their
opportunities for employment,
credit, licensing, and other kinds
of functions in this society is
deeply impacted by what the
rules will be and the treatment
made of such information. This
race context should be
understood as an important
aspect of what the survey is
exploring.
Finally, our survey is
anticipative because members of
the public are not, as the phrase
goes, “policy wonks.” They do
not thrill to ideas such as
whether a legislative solution
would take an opt-in or an optout approach, or whether notice
has to be cast in a certain way.
Those issues are for the experts.
They are very important in
terms of policy, but we stayed
away from posing those kinds of
questions in our survey. Instead,
we tried to frame issues in terms
of broad attitudes, and broad
policy and social choices.

Comparisons with
other privacy
surveys
How did our sample compare
with the results of other privacy
surveys in this decade? We
clearly had a representative
sample in terms of how the
public approaches balancing
public interest and privacy.
There is high comparability in
the figures we compiled on
overall privacy concern, for
example. As in other surveys,
our sample judged information
technology uses as positive, but
also as threatening. We also
found heavy support for fair
information practices; the list of
rules that people want for the
handling of criminal history
information match the high
support for those kinds of
principles in many of the
surveys.
Of great importance was
confirmation of the
segmentation of the public on
privacy issues found over 2
decades of privacy survey
research. In looking at the
pattern of the public’s privacy
attitudes, this research shows
that the public broadly divides
into three continuing and
consistent segments:
•
First are what we call the
“privacy fundamentalists.”
These people view privacy
as a passionate and deep
concern. They generally
will reject a consumer
benefit or social value as
being not as important as
protecting their privacy.
When it comes to consumer
privacy issues, they want

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

•

•

the government to pass
legislation or have
regulatory oversight,
because they think that is
the only way that consumer
privacy will be adequately
protected.
At the opposite end are
what we call the “privacy
unconcerned.” These are the
folks who do not know what
the issue is all about, and
could not care less. As
consumers, if you give them
5 cents off, they will give
you their family histories
and anything else you want
to know. They also
generally feel that public
order and public safety is
far more important, because
they do not think they have
anything to hide.
In between those two are
what we call the “privacy
pragmatists.” They go
through a very special
process. First, privacy
pragmatists ask themselves,
“What is the benefit to me
or to my society? What do I
get if you extract or require
me to give my personal
information?” The second
question they ask is, “What
are the privacy risks and
how serious are they? How
is my information going to
be used, and is it going to be
used in ways that I am
really very unhappy about
and that seem to be
excessive?” Third, they ask,
“What safeguards or
protections are being
offered for my privacy
against those privacy risks,
and how will they be
delivered?” Finally, there is

Page 9

the “Do You Want to be a
Millionaire?” question: Do
they trust the industry or the
sector to follow those
safeguards? And if they do,
that ends the discussion. If
they do not, the question
then becomes, “Do we need
legislation and regulatory
oversight before the privacy
pragmatists will be
comfortable with their
information being used in
this way?”
Our survey shows that the
percentages in each one of these
three categories varies
according to the privacy issue
involved. People do not have
one coherent, consistent view
across all the different
dimensions of privacy — such
as consumer, citizen, and
employee privacy issues. And
consumer issues subdivide into
many different sectors like
financial affairs, health and
medical affairs,
telecommunications, direct
marketing, and others. In
general, we found on consumer
issues that 25% of the public are
privacy fundamentalists, 20%
are privacy unconcerned, and
55% fall into the privacy
pragmatists category. Not
surprisingly, when you shift to
health and medical issues, the
privacy fundamentalists
category expands; in 1994 it
was roughly 35%. Today, it
might be up to 45%, in terms of
the increased sense of
sensitivity and risk involved in
health and medical records.
On citizen issues, we found in
several surveys we conducted
that about 32% were in the

Page 10

privacy fundamentalists
category, 12% in privacy
unconcerned, and 50% in
privacy pragmatists. Our data in
this survey suggest that the
criminal justice balance pretty
much approximates the citizen
division.
We see this reflected in the
findings about attitudes toward
the criminal justice system.
From 68% to 79% rate the
criminal justice system as
effective in the different
dimensions that we offered, and
70% say they feel the system
respects civil liberties. But the
“very effective” and the “very
greatly respects civil liberties”
categories were not high. It is
only when you put “very” and
“somewhat” together, as is
traditional in this kind of survey
work, that you get the overall
positive numbers just cited.
However, it is also important to
note that only 12% say their
own privacy has been invaded
or has been lessened as a result
of a law enforcement agency
action, compared to 25% to
30% of the public who regularly
say on privacy surveys that they
feel their consumer privacy has
been violated by business
actions.
It is useful to compare our
findings with some
effectiveness or confidence
ratings that we get about other
institutions. Over the years, the
Harris organization has
maintained a “confidence in
institutions” index. Reading a
list of institutions, people have
been asked how much
confidence they have in “the

people running those
organizations.” The choices
given are: “a great deal of
confidence,” “only some
confidence,” or “hardly any
confidence.” The numbers in
our survey show that the
skepticism the American public
feels toward a number of other
government institutions makes
law enforcement shine by
comparison. Eighty-two percent
say they have “only some” or
“hardly any” confidence in the
U.S. Congress, 79% for the
Federal executive branch, 76%
for the White House, 64% for
the Supreme Court, and — the
big winner — 48% for the
military. These are the negative
levels about these institutions. If
that is a fair comparison to law
enforcement and the criminal
justice system, they are not
considered one of the bad boys
of the governmental process.

Patterns reflected in
survey findings
With these observations in
mind, then, we can look at some
of the specific findings and note
the general pattern reflected.
Only 12% of our sample favors
a completely open State
criminal history records system.
There is a sense that there are
too many privacy perils in
absolute, total access of this
public record system for more
than 12% of the public to feel
this is a good solution. Eightyfour percent want some kind of
limits on either the type of
criminal history record that is
disseminated or the type of user.
For example, 47% favor a
system that is completely open
for conviction records, while

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

37% favor a selected-user
system that could provide
access to both conviction and
arrest-only records.
What kind of access does the
public think is appropriate,
based upon relevance or
sensitivity criteria? There were
no majorities for open access to
all criminal history information
to all of the kinds of private
organizations that we listed,
again suggesting a public desire
to see modulated systems. Fiftyfive percent would let an
employer and 57% would let
government licensing agencies
have access to conviction
records, if there is a sensitive
job that makes access an
important criteria in protecting
the public. For arrest-only
records, the sensitivity of the
job just drew under a majority
for employers and 50% for
licensing agencies, while
respondents who would deny
access to arrest-only records
rose to 31% and 29% in that
category.
Another example is the way
access was dealt with in terms
of need and relevance. As far as
conviction records were
concerned, there was very high
support for groups that work
with children, the military, and
insurers fighting fraud. On the
other hand, there was not a
majority for giving access to the
media, to banks for loan
decisions, to neighbors checking
on criminal history conviction
records, and to credit card
issuers. When we shifted to
arrest-only records, the center of
gravity moved dramatically,

with only groups working with
children drawing majority
support, and no others getting a
majority for access being
provided.
Applying demographic analysis,
we can see that the groups that
favor more limited or less
access are younger respondents
who feel that they are still
coming up in the system, and
that there can be more harm
done to them from some of
these criminal history
information uses. AfricanAmericans, as compared to
Whites, are more critical of the
criminal justice system. Some of
these demographic readings are
not so much separate categories
as they may be describing
combinations of statuses or
attitudes. For example, if we
look at the attitudes of groups
with the lowest education,
lowest income, and minority
status, the same individual may
be represented in those three
different capacities. From 20%
to 35% of the total public shares
those demographic
characteristics and, therefore,
have those attitudes.
When we turned to
fingerprinting, heavy majorities
said that fingerprinting was
acceptable for all of the seven
uses that we tested. Not
surprisingly, we received very
high numbers — 80% to 94%
— of support for using
fingerprints to process arrests in
the criminal justice system, for
issuing occupational licenses for
sensitive jobs, and for policing
welfare fraud. Those issues
always draw heavy support

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

from the general public.
Because identity fraud has
become an enormous problem,
there is high support for using a
finger image on a driver’s
license to prevent fraudulent
use. We even received 68% to
71% support for using
fingerprinting for check
cashing. One response that
really struck me as astounding
was majority support for the use
of fingerprints for buying airline
tickets. We may have enhanced
that response by connecting
fingerprint use in this fashion to
fighting terrorism, but it reveals
the fragility of the “high privacy
position” to have a majority of
Americans say it is acceptable
to fingerprint people who buy
airline tickets.
A few other findings are worth
noting. Ninety percent of the
public say they would be
opposed to putting what were
called “open public records” on
the Internet. Experts have
recognized that putting open
records on-line would increase
access to the addresses of law
enforcement officers, judges,
mayors, and others in a
potentially harmful way, and
posting bankruptcy records
would reveal things like Social
Security numbers and risk
identity thefts, and so forth.
Whether members of the public
had these or other aspects in
mind, 9 in 10 Americans clearly
feel that there is a tremendous
difference between putting open
records on the Internet and
having them open only at their
source.

Page 11

We saw slim majorities in
support of keeping restrictions
on the disclosure of juvenile
records, and that records should
not be sealed but kept open for
employers and licensing
agencies. Two out of three
respondents believe it would be
better for the government to
provide criminal history
information for socially
valuable uses than it would be
to have this done by commercial
services.

uses seem to be legitimate or
where the privacy risks seem to
be too great. In no sense is there
a kind of carte blanche attitude
that “criminal history
information is okay; let’s use it
any place people want it.” The
process of looking at the value,
assessing the risk, checking for
safeguards, and deciding
whether they trust the people
running the system is the
process by which people make
up their minds.

When we turn to privacy
policies for organizations
collecting and using personal
information, it is clear that the
public well understands and
gives extraordinarily high
support to what are known as
fair information practices — the
right to have information
procedures explained and
policies followed; the right to
view records and have
corrections made; the right to
have an impartial dispute
resolution procedure; and so on.
That judgment was verified
here. The fair information
practices rules we presented for
uses of criminal history records
were overwhelmingly seen as
“very important” or “important”
(without the “somewhat”
category), and the public wants
commercial agencies to follow
the same kinds of practices.

This leads me to draw two
overarching conclusions from
the survey. First, the public is
indeed interested in these issues
and will support the
development of new rules for
societal uses of criminal history
information in an informationrich age when people are
actively seeking more
information on one hand, while
also being very worried about
inappropriate or dangerous uses
of information.

To summarize, the findings here
are well supported by other
privacy surveys that are being
done and that have been done in
the past. The survey shows that
the majority of the public starts
out as privacy pragmatists. They
want to pick and choose what

Page 12

system and in social uses
outside. The survey offers a
baseline of understanding about
how the public will approach
these issues when the political
system and the media offer them
up for general public response.

Second, where that debate will
go will depend on the process
by which these issues are tested
in legislative arenas, in
executive agencies, in the
media, and in public debate.
What you have in the survey
findings are some underlying
attitude sets. How they will be
focused depends on the play of
debate, and on whether horror
stories grip the public and drive
decisionmaking, or whether the
feeling is that there are
workable solutions. We will
have a major debate in this
decade over reshaping the rules
for criminal history information,
both inside the criminal justice

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Detailed findings
Reading notes
The following pages present
supporting tabulations of
survey results. The data are
percentaged vertically and,
therefore, should be read
from top-to-bottom. The total
number of unweighted
interviews appears at the top
in parentheses. Percentages,
however, are calculated on
the weighted bases.
Percentages may not add to
100% due to weighting
factors, rounding or multiple
responses. Where a double
asterisk (**) appears, it
signifies any value of less
than one-half of 1 percent.
Comparisons of independent
subgroups have been made
when those differences are
mathematically significant.
Significance testing is done
to the 95% confidence level.
Note that any statistical test
becomes less reliable when
the sample sizes are small.
Even though the test can be
mathematically performed on
samples as low as 30, the
reasonable lower boundary
on the size of the sample is
60 respondents.

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 13

Page 14

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Foundations

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 15

Privacy concerns
Nearly all (90%) of adult
Americans are concerned about
the possible misuse of personal
information. Almost two-thirds
(64%) say they are “very
concerned,” while another onequarter (25%) report being
“somewhat” or moderately
concerned. Ten percent express
either little or no concern about
possible misuse of personal
information.

There are some variations of the
intensity of concern. Younger
adults, Whites, those who are
more affluent, and college
graduates are less likely to
report that they have a high
level of concern (“very
concerned”) about possible
misuse of personal information.

___________________________
Q21 How concerned are you about the possible misuse of your personal information in America today?
Are you . . .
Total
(1030)
%
90
64
25

(n) =
Very/Somewhat concerned (net)
Very concerned
Somewhat concerned
Not very/Not concerned at all (net)
Not very concerned
Not concerned at all

10
8
2

Don’t know

1

(n) =

Under
65
(899)
%

AGE
65 and
older
(124)
%

RACE
AfricanWhite
Amer.
(836)
(102)*
%
%

EDUCATION
College
NonGrad
Grad
(366)
(651)
%
%

HH INCOME
$50K or
LT
higher
$50K
(321)
(516)
%
%

Very/Somewhat concerned (net)
Very concerned
Somewhat concerned

89
63
27^

91
73^
18

89
62
28^

93
79^
14

88
58
30^

91
67^
23

89
57
32^

90
67^
22

Not very/Not concerned at all (net)

10

7

10

5

12

8

11

9

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
* = Small Base

Page 16

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Experience with invasions of privacy
The high level of concern about
privacy invasion is not,
however, totally based on
personal experience. To the
extent personal experience
influences concerns, perceived
privacy invasions by the private
sector are most frequent.
• When asked if they have ever
been victims of an improper
invasion of privacy by
specific types of
organizations, a total of 38%
say that they have been
victimized by at least one of
four entities.

—25% of respondents said that
they have been victimized by
a business collecting and
using information
—13% had been victimized by
a charitable, political, or
nonprofit organization
—12% by a law enforcement
agency
—10% by a government tax,
social service, welfare, or
licensing agency.

Not surprisingly, adults who
have a high level of concern
about the possible misuse of
personal information are more
likely to report having been
victims of an invasion.
African-Americans are nearly
twice as likely to feel that they
have been victimized by a law
enforcement agency (21% vs.
11%).
More men than women perceive
that they have been a “privacy
victim” of a law enforcement
agency (16% vs. 9%).

___________________________
Q22 Have you personally ever been the victim of what you felt was an improper invasion of privacy by any of the
following?
“Yes” summary

(n) =

TOTAL
(1030)
%

LEVEL OF CONCERN
ABOUT MISUSE OF
PERSONAL INFORMATION
High
Medium
Low
(666)
(261)
(97)*
%
%
%

GENDER
Male
Female
(520)
(510)
%
%

RACE
White
Afr.-Amer..
(836)
(102)*
%
%

Any invasion (net)

38

44^

30

19

43^

34

37

45

A business collecting and
using information about you

25

30^^

19^

8

27

22

24

28

A charitable, political, or
nonprofit organization

13

15^

12^

4

16^

11

13

14

A law enforcement agency

12

14

10

7

16^

9

11

21^

A government tax, social
service, welfare, or license
agency

10

12^^

7

3

12

8

9

14

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
* = Small Base

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 17

Internet usage
Sixty percent of adults report
using the Internet from any
location (home, work, school, or
some other place).
• In general, Internet users are
more likely to be men,
younger, upper income,
White, and college graduates.

___________________________
Q27 Do you use the Internet today from home, work, school, or any other place?
GENDER
TOTAL

EDUCATION
College
Some
Grad
College
(366)
(241)
%
%

No
College
(410)
%

(n) =

(1030)
%

Male
(520)
%

YES

60

66^

54

61^

50

82^^

64^

39

NO

40

34

46^

39

49

18

36^

60^^

DON’T KNOW/REFUSED

**

1

**

**

1

0

0

1

(n) =

HH INCOME
$25K-LT
LT $25K
$50K
(228)
(288)
%
%

Female
(510)
%

RACE
AfricanWhite
Amer.
(836)
(102)*
%
%

AGE
$50K or
higher
(321)
%

18-34
(326)
%

35-54
(440)
%

55+
(257)
%

YES

32

59^

84^^

76^^

65^

33

NO

68^^

40^^

16

24

35^

66^^

1

**

0

0

0

1

DON’T KNOW/REFUSED

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
* = Small Base
** = Less than one-half of 1%

Page 18

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Perceptions of personal information available on the Internet
About one-half of adults believe
that anyone’s credit reports
(52%) or criminal conviction
record (49%) may be purchased
via the Internet.

Approximately 4 in 10 adults
believe that they can obtain
anyone’s Social Security
number (42%), credit card
number (39%), or arrest record
(38%). Thirty-six percent
believe that bank balances are
for sale on line.

• Internet users are
significantly more likely than
nonusers to believe that it is
true that credit reports (56%
vs. 47%) and criminal
conviction records (53% vs.
45%) are available on-line.

___________________________
Q20 For each of the following types of personal records, please indicate whether you think it is true or false that
anyone using the Internet can PURCHASE this kind of record from PRIVATE SERVICES on any person they
are interested in, for any purpose that they have in mind.
“True” summary

(n) =

TOTAL
(1030)
%

USE THE INTERNET
Yes
No
(630)
(397)
%
%

Anyone’s credit bureau report

52

56^

47

Anyone’s criminal conviction record

49

53^

45

Anyone’s Social Security number

42

44

38

Anyone’s credit card numbers

39

39

40

Anyone’s arrest record, even if not convicted

38

39

36

Anyone’s bank checking account balance

36

36

35

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 19

Experience with the American legal and criminal justice systems
Seven percent report that they
have had some sort of legal
training and/or exposure
(lawyers, work for a law firm or
legal department, or have had
some sort of legal training).

Nine percent of adults report
that they work or have worked
for some sort of criminal justice
agency — including police,
prosecutors, courts, or a
corrections agency.

• Nearly half (48%) of those
with legal training work or
have worked for some sort of
criminal justice agency.

___________________________
Q26 Are you a lawyer, do you work for a law firm or legal department, or have you had legal training?

(n) =

TOTAL
(1030)
%

YES

7

NO

93

DON’T KNOW/REFUSED

**

Q25 Do you now work or have you ever worked for any kind of criminal justice agency, such as the police,
prosecutors’ offices, courts, or corrections agency?

(n) =

TOTAL
(1030)
%

LAW TRAINED
(70)*
%

YES

9

48

NO

91

52

DON’T KNOW/REFUSED

**

0

* = Small Base
** = Less than one-half of 1%

Page 20

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Experience with the American legal and criminal justice systems
(continued)
Seven percent — 16% of those
working for a criminal justice
agency and 17% of those with
legal training — have ever
personally sought the criminal
conviction records of someone

else, excluding inquiries made
as part of their employment.

driving convictions) — and of
those persons, 57% admit to
having been convicted.

One out of 10 respondents
reports having been arrested for
a criminal offense (other than

___________________________
Q28 Have you personally ever sought to obtain the criminal conviction record about another person, for any reason,
apart from any such inquiry in your duties at work?

(n) =

TOTAL
(1030)
%

LAW TRAINED
(70)*
%

WORK(ED) IN CRIMINAL
JUSTICE AGENCY
(98)*
%

YES

7

17

16

NO

93

83

84

DON’T KNOW/REFUSED

**

0

0

Q29 Have you ever been arrested for a criminal offense, other than driving violations?

(n) =

TOTAL
(1030)
%

YES

10

NO

90

DON’T KNOW/REFUSED

1

Q30 Were you convicted for that offense or not?
Base = Have been arrested for a criminal offense

(n) =

TOTAL
(101)
%

YES

57

NO

41

DON’T KNOW/REFUSED

3

* = Small Base
** = Less than one-half of 1%

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 21

Experience with the American legal and criminal justice systems
(continued)
Six out of 10 adults report
having had their fingerprints
taken for some sort of
identification purpose, such as
military service or a job
application or government
license.
• Most (87%) felt that the
fingerprinting was an
appropriate requirement.

___________________________
Q23 Have you ever had your fingerprints taken, for example, for military service, applying for a job or a
government license, or for any other identification purpose?

(n) =

TOTAL
(1030)
%

YES

61

NO

38

DON’T KNOW/REFUSED

1

Q24 Did you feel that doing this was an appropriate requirement or not an appropriate requirement?
Base = Ever had fingerprints taken for military service, applying for a job or a government license, or for any
other identification purpose?

(n) =

TOTAL
(631)
%

APPROPRIATE

87

NOT APPROPRIATE

12

DON’T KNOW/REFUSED

1

Page 22

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Knowledge of the criminal justice system
Thirteen percent say that they
“know a great deal” about the
American criminal justice
system — defined as the way
police, prosecutors, courts, and
defense counsel work. Most
adults (57%) report that they
“know the basics.” The balance
either “don’t know very much”
(23%) or “don’t know about this
area at all” (6%).

• Men claim to be more
knowledgeable than do
women, with 17% of men
asserting a high degree of
knowledge, as compared to
9% of women.
• Although age, education, and
income clearly have a
relationship to knowledge
about the system, it is

interesting that the primary
difference lies between the
proportions claiming
“average” knowledge —
“knowing the basics” — and
those claiming little or no
knowledge.

___________________________
Q1

How much do you know about the American system of criminal justice — the way police, prosecutors, courts,
and defense counsel work? Would you say you know a great deal, know the basics, don’t know very much, or
don’t know about this area at all?

(n) =

GENDER
Male
Female
(520)
(510)
%
%

TOTAL
(1030)
%

Know a great deal/Just the basics (net)
Know a great deal
Know the basics

70
13
57

79^
17^
62^

62
9
53

Don’t know very much/Don’t know at all (net)
Don’t know very much
Don’t know about this area at all
Don’t know

30
23
6
**

21
16
5
**

38^
30^
8
**

(n) =

Know a great deal/Just the basics (net)
Know a great deal
Know the basics
Don’t know very much/Don’t know at all (net)

HH INCOME
$25K$50K
LT
LT
or
$25K
$50K
higher
(228)
(288)
(321)
%
%
%
58
12
46
41^^

69^
12
56^
31^

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

81^^
13
68^^
19

AGE

18-34
(326)
%

35-54
(440)
%

55+
(257)
%

72^
14
58^
28

75^
14
61^
25

62
11
51
38^

Page 23

Knowledge of the criminal justice system (continued)

(n) =

Know a great deal/Just the basics (net)
Know a great deal
Know the basics
Don’t know very much/Don’t know at all (net)

College
Grad
(366)
%
81^^
17^
64^^
19

EDUCATION
Some
HS
College
Grad
(241)
(326)
%
%
76^^
12
64^^
24

61^
9
52^
38^

HS
Inc.
(84)*
%
47
13
34
53^^

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
* = Small Base
** = Less than one-half of 1%

Page 24

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Attitudes toward the criminal justice system
Overall, Americans give the
criminal justice system fair
grades in executing key
functions.
• Majorities rate the system as
“very or somewhat effective”
in:
—investigating and arresting
persons suspected of
committing crimes (79%)
—prosecuting accused
persons (73%)

• About one-half (53%) give
the system a very or
somewhat effective rating in
all three areas; 24% gave that
rating in two areas, while
another 24% said the system
is very or somewhat effective
in either only one (10%) or
none (14%) of these areas.

—reaching a just outcome in
criminal trials (68%).
• Fewer than 2 out of 10 adults
rate the system as very
effective in any of these
areas.
A substantial group of adults —
approximately one-quarter of
the population — sees the
criminal justice system as not
very or not effective at all.

___________________________
Q2

From what you have read or heard, or any personal experiences, how effective do you think the overall
American criminal justice system is in each of the following areas? Do you think it is very effective,
somewhat effective, not very effective, or not effective at all?

(n) = (1030)
In investigating and arresting persons
suspected of committing crimes
%

In prosecuting accused persons

In reaching just outcomes at criminal
trials

Very/Somewhat effective (net)
Very effective
Somewhat effective

79
18
61

Very/Somewhat effective (net)
Very effective
Somewhat effective

73
15
58

Very/Somewhat effective (net)
Very effective
Somewhat effective

68
13
55

Not very/Not effective at all (net)
Not very effective
Not effective at all

18
14
4

Not very/Not effective at all (net)
Not very effective
Not effective at all

24
19
5

Not very/Not effective at all (net)
Not very effective
Not effective at all

28
22
5

Don’t know

3

Don’t know

4

Don’t know

5

%

%

Overall view of effectiveness of criminal justice system
High (all three elements very/somewhat effective)

%
53

Moderate (two out of three elements very/somewhat effective)

24

Low (one or none of the three elements very/somewhat effective)

24

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 25

Attitudes toward the criminal justice system (continued)
As the accompanying table
illustrates, race and education
tend to impact one’s views on
the effectiveness of the criminal
justice system.
___________________________
Q2

From what you have read or heard, or any personal experiences, how effective do you think the overall
American criminal justice system is in each of the following areas? Do you think it is very effective,
somewhat effective, not very effective, or not effective at all?

Very/Somewhat effective summary
RACE
AfricanWhite
Amer.
(836)
(102)*
%
%

EDUCATION
No
Some
College
College
(410)
(607)
%
%

In investigating and arresting persons suspected
of committing crimes

82^

65

72

85^

In prosecuting accused persons

74

66

69

76^

In reaching just outcomes at criminal trials

69

65

64

70

Overall view of effectiveness of criminal justice system
RACE
AfricanWhite
Amer.
(836)
(102)*
%
%

EDUCATION
No
Some
College
College
(410)
(607)
%
%

High (all three elements very/somewhat
effective)

55

45

50

55

Moderate (two out of three elements
very/somewhat effective)

24

21

20

27^

Low (one or none of the three elements
very/somewhat effective)

24

34^

30^

18

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
* = Small Base

Page 26

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Attitudes toward the criminal justice system (continued)
The proportions are similar
when it comes to perceptions
about how well the system
respects the civil liberties and
constitutional rights of suspects.

• Seventy percent say the
system does either very well
(24%) or somewhat well
(46%), while about onequarter say it does not do
very well (19%) or not well
at all (8%).

• Race (most notably), income,
and education influence
views of how well rights and
liberties are respected.

___________________________
Q3

How well do you think the criminal justice system as a whole respects the civil liberties or constitutional rights
of persons who become involved as suspects? Would you say very well, somewhat well, not very well or not
well at all?

(n) =

(1030)
%

Very/Somewhat well (net)
Very well
Somewhat well

70
24
46

Not very/Not well at all (net)
Not very well
Not well at all

26
19
8

Don’t know

4

(n) =

RACE
AfricanWhite
Amer.
(836)
(102)*
%
%

HH INCOME
LT
$50K or
$50K
higher
(516)
(321)
%
%

EDUCATION
No
Some
College
College
(410)
(607)
%
%

Very/Somewhat well (net)

74^

46

67

77^

66

73^

Not very/Not well at all (net)

23

52^

30^

21

29

25

Don’t know

4

2

3

3

6^

2

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
* = Small Base

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 27

Page 28

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Attitudes toward uses of
criminal history record information
outside the criminal justice system

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 29

Awareness and general attitudes
Slightly fewer than one-half of
adults (45%) say that they have
read or heard about the criminal
history records system.
Overall, Americans view
government criminal history
records as confidential
information and favor some
restriction.
• When given a choice of three
systems, 47% prefer what
was labeled as a “partially
open system,” where
conviction records are freely
available to everyone.

Another 37% favor a
restricted system, where
access is limited only to
selected users.
• Only 12% favor a completely
open system — one with both
arrest and conviction records
freely available.
Race and education appear to be
significant demographic factors
in determining attitudes insofar
as preference for a partially
open system (open access to
conviction records) versus a
selected-user system.

• Whites favor a partially open
system over one limited to
select users by 49% to 35%,
while African-American
respondents favor the
selected user system by a
similar margin of 47% to
35%.
• Those with at least a high
school diploma favor the
partially open system, while
those who did not complete
high school favor a selecteduser system to a partially
open system by 48% to 30%.

___________________________
Q4 Government agencies collect and store the criminal history records of persons arrested, prosecuted, and
convicted or acquitted in the State and Federal criminal justice systems. They store these records in
computerized record systems. Police, prosecutors, defense counsel, and court officers use these records to
carry out their missions. Have you read or heard about this criminal history record system?

Page 30

(n) = (1030)

%

YES

45

NO

54

DON’T KNOW/REFUSED

1

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Awareness and general attitudes (continued)
Q5

Under American law and practice, government criminal history records are made available to some
government and private users outside the criminal justice system. Please listen to three different policies for
making such government records available and indicate which ONE you would prefer.

(n) =

TOTAL
(1030)
%

RACE
AfricanWhite
Amer.
(836)
(102)*
%
%

College
Grad
(366)
%

EDUCATION
Some
HS
College
Grad
(241)
(326)
%
%

HS
Inc.
(84)*
%

A COMPLETELY OPEN
SYSTEM, where anyone can
obtain either the conviction or the
arrest-without-conviction record
about an individual, because such
broad access helps protect society

12

12

11

9

13

12

18^

A PARTIALLY OPEN SYSTEM,
where anyone can obtain
CONVICTION records but NOT
records of arrests WITHOUT
CONVICTIONS, because persons
not convicted are presumed
innocent in our constitutional
system

47

49^

35

52^

49^

45^

30

A system OPEN ONLY TO
SELECTED USERS for either
conviction or nonconviction
records, such as employers or
government licensing authorities,
because society feels certain users
have a valid need but others do not
have a valid need

37

35

47^

37

35

36

48^

DON’T KNOW/NONE OF
THESE

4

4

7

2

3

7^

4

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
* = Small Base

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 31

Access by employers and government licensing agencies
Access to conviction records
Although most adults would
allow some employer access to
the conviction records of job
applicants, a majority (55%)
believes that right of access
should be linked to whether the
position involves sensitive
work, such as handling money,
dealing with children, or serving

as security guards. Four out of
10 (40%) would grant access to
all employers, regardless of the
position, while only 1 out of 20
(4%) would bar all employer
access.
Attitudes are similar when it
comes to government
occupational licensing agencies

having access to conviction
records. A majority (57%)
believes that access should be
limited to occupations involving
sensitive work and 35% would
grant access to all agencies.
Again, only 4% would prohibit
access to all occupational
licensing agencies.

___________________________
Q6

How do you feel about EMPLOYERS being able to obtain from government agencies the conviction records
of persons applying to them for jobs? Do you feel ALL employers should be able to get such records, NO
employers should be able to get these, or it should DEPEND ON WHETHER THE JOB INVOLVES
SENSITIVE WORK, such as handling money, dealing with children, or serving as security guards?

Q7

How do you feel about GOVERNMENT AGENCIES THAT ISSUE OCCUPATIONAL LICENSES
obtaining CONVICTION records from the record agencies? Do you feel that ALL license agencies should
have access, NONE should have access, or it should DEPEND ON WHETHER THE LICENSE WILL BE
FOR JOBS INVOLVING SENSITIVE WORK?

EMPLOYERS

GOVERNMENT
OCCUPATIONAL
LICENSING AGENCIES

%

%

All

40

35

None

4

4

Depends on job

55

57

Don’t know

1

3

(n) = (1030)

Page 32

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Access by employers and government licensing agencies (continued)
Access to conviction records

employers or licensing agencies
are persons aged 25 years and
older, Whites, individuals in
more affluent households, those
with at least some college, those

(continued)

As the accompanying tables
illustrate, those most likely to
favor blanket access to either

who feel the criminal justice
system respects civil rights, and
those who report never having
been arrested.

___________________________
Q6

How do you feel about EMPLOYERS being able to obtain from government agencies the conviction records
of persons applying to them for jobs? Do you feel ALL employers should be able to get such records, NO
employers should be able to get these, or it should DEPEND ON WHETHER THE JOB INVOLVES
SENSITIVE WORK, such as handling money, dealing with children, or serving as security guards?

Q7

How do you feel about GOVERNMENT AGENCIES THAT ISSUE OCCUPATIONAL LICENSES
obtaining CONVICTION records from the record agencies? Do you feel that ALL license agencies should
have access, NONE should have access, or it should DEPEND ON WHETHER THE LICENSE WILL BE
FOR JOBS INVOLVING SENSITIVE WORK?

EMPLOYERS

(n) =

All
None
Depends on job
Don’t know

LICENSING
AGENCIES

(n) =

All
None
Depends on job
Don’t know

Under
25
(111)
%

AGE
25 and
Older
(912)
%

29
2
69^
0

41^
4
53
1

AGE
Under
25 and
25
Older
(111)
(912)
%
%
21
4
71^
4

37
4
55
4

RACE
AfricanWhite
Amer.
(836)
(102)*
%
%
43^
4
53
1

27
6
65^
2

RACE
AfricanWhite
Amer.
(836)
(102)*
%
%
38^
4
56
3

21
8^
68^
3

EDUCATION
No
Some
College College
(410)
(607)
%
%
33
5
60^
2

45^
3
51
*

EDUCATION
No
Some
College College
(410)
(607)
%
%
26
6
63
5

41
3
53
2

HH INCOME
LT
$50K or
$50K
higher
(516)
(321)
%
%
35
5
59^
1

47^
3
50
**

HH INCOME
LT
$50K or
$50K
higher
(516)
(321)
%
%
30
5
61^
4

43^
4
52
1

CIVIL RIGHTS
ReNot
spects
Respect
(726)
(268)
%
%
43^
4
53
1

34
5
60
1

CIVIL RIGHTS
ReNot
spects
Respect
(726)
(268)
%
%
39^
3
55
3

27
8^
64^
2

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
* = Small Base
** = Less than one-half of 1%

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 33

ARRESTED
Yes
(101)*
%

No
(923)
%

30
6
62
2

41^
4
54
1

ARRESTED
Yes
(101)*
%

No
(923)
%

29
9^
60
2

36
4
57
3

Access by employers and government licensing agencies (continued)
Access to arrest-only records

demographic groups
examined, that fluctuation
lies only in the strength of the
majority, ranging from a low
of 60% among those who did
not attend college and a high
of 73% among residents of
the Northeast.

• Sixty-six percent say that
they would take a different
position regarding access to
arrest records than they do
conviction records.
• While there is some
fluctuation among

A large majority of Americans
distinguish between access to
conviction records and access to
records of persons arrested but
not convicted.

___________________________
Q9

Now, please think about government records of persons ARRESTED BUT NOT CONVICTED. Would you
take the SAME position on groups having access to those records as you just did for CONVICTION records,
or would you take some DIFFERENT positions as to records of ARRESTS WITHOUT CONVICTIONS?

TOTAL
(1030)
%

NO
COLLEGE
(410)
%

NORTHEAST
(201)
%

Same position

29

34

24

Different positions

66

60

73

Don’t know

4

6

3

(n) =

Page 34

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Access by employers and government licensing agencies (continued)
Access to arrest-only records

About one-half would allow
limited access based on the
sensitivity of the position, while
only 15% would grant all
employers or government
licensing agencies access to
arrest-only records.

(continued)

The shift in opinion when it
comes to arrest-only records is
clearly in favor of less access.
Approximately 3 out of 10
adults would bar any access to
arrest-only records to any
employer or governmental
licensing agency.

___________________________
Q10 How do you feel about EMPLOYERS being able to obtain from government agencies the arrest-withoutconviction records of persons applying to them for jobs? Do you feel ALL employers should be able to get
such records, NO employers should be able to get these, or it should DEPEND ON WHETHER THE JOB
INVOLVES SENSITIVE WORK, such as handling money, dealing with children, or serving as security
guards? (Asked of those stating that they would take a different view of arrest records. Results combined with
those saying they view access to conviction and arrest records the same.)
Q11 How do you feel about GOVERNMENT AGENCIES THAT ISSUE OCCUPATIONAL LICENSES
obtaining the arrest-without-conviction records from the record agencies? Do you feel that ALL license
agencies should have access, NONE should have access, or it should DEPEND ON WHETHER THE
LICENSE WILL BE FOR JOBS INVOLVING SENSITIVE WORK? (Asked of those stating that they would
take a different view of arrest records. Results combined with those saying they view access to conviction and
arrest records the same.)
(n) = (1030)
EMPLOYERS
Arrest w/o
Conviction
Conviction
%
%

GOVERNMENT OCCUPATIONAL
LICENSING AGENCIES
Arrest w/o
Conviction
conviction
%
%

All

40

15

35

15

None

4

31

4

29

Depends on job

55

49

57

50

Don’t know

1

5

3

6

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 35

Access to criminal history records by organizations other than
employers and licensing agencies
Substantial majorities favor at
least some access to conviction
records for private
organizations, such as the Boy
Scouts of America, that work
with children (88%), for the
military to evaluate potential
recruits (82%), and for
insurance companies
investigating fraud (76%).
• Support drops below a
majority, however, for
reporters wanting to find out
about political candidates
(44%), banks deciding on

personal loan applications
(41%), individuals wanting to
learn if a neighbor has any
criminal record (38%), and
companies that issue credit
cards (38%).
When the subject turns to arrestonly records, however, support
for access again plummets. Only
when the interests of children
are involved does a majority
(59%) favor access. About onehalf (49%) would allow the
military to see arrest-only
records of potential recruits, and

45% would allow access to
insurance companies
investigating fraud.
• Fewer than one-quarter of
adults favor access to arrestonly records for reporters
wanting to find out about
political candidates (23%),
banks deciding on personal
loan applications (22%),
individuals wanting to learn
if a neighbor has any criminal
record (23%), and companies
that issue credit cards (21%).

___________________________
Q8

Here are some other groups that might want to get CONVICTION records. For each, would you favor them
having access or not?

Q12 Here are some other groups that might want to get ARREST-WITHOUT-CONVICTION records. For each,
would you favor them having access or not? (Asked of those stating that they would take a different view of
arrest records. Results combined with those saying they view access to conviction and arrest records the
same.)
FAVOR GROUPS HAVING ACCESS SUMMARY

RECORD TYPE
CONVICTION
%

ARREST
(W/O CONVICTION)
%

Private organizations, like the Boy Scouts, that work with children

88

59

The military services, in screening persons seeking to enlist

82

49

Insurance companies investigating claims for possible fraud

76

45

Reporters wanting to find out about political candidates

44

23

Banks deciding on personal loan applications

41

22

Individuals wanting to learn if a neighbor has any criminal record

38

23

Companies that issue credit cards

38

21

(n) = (1030)

Page 36

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Fair information practices
The study reveals extremely
strong support for the
implementation of three “fair
information practices”
governing maintenance and use
of criminal history records.
• Nearly 9 out of 10 adults
(89%) consider it very
important to have a right to
review their records, coupled
with the right to have
suspected errors investigated
and, if indeed erroneous,
corrected.

• Approximately three-quarters
(74%) see it as very
important that there be an
impartial procedure to
receive, investigate, and
resolve complaints
concerning misuse of one’s
criminal history records
and/or the failure of the
relevant agency to follow
appropriate policies.
• Over one-half (55%) believe
it very important that each

person be informed when a
criminal history record is
created, how it will be used
within the criminal justice
system, and the policies
governing the record’s
availability outside the
system.†
• Ninety percent or more
consider each of these
practices to be either very or
somewhat important.

___________________________
Q13 Here are some policies that could be set to protect individual rights of persons having a criminal history record
in government files. For each of these, indicate whether you think requiring such a policy is very important,
somewhat important, not too important, or not important at all.

VERY
IMPORTANT
%

VERY OR
SOMEWHAT
IMPORTANT
%

Each person would have the right to see his or her record, and to have
items felt to be incorrect re-checked by the recordkeeping agency and
corrected, if in error

89

98

An impartial procedure would be available for receiving, investigating,
and resolving complaints by individuals about misuse of their records or
failure to follow agency policies

74

94

Each person would be informed when a record is created, what the
record is, how it will be used inside the criminal justice system, and what
policies will be followed in making the record available outside the
criminal justice system

55

90

(n) = (1030)

†

One should be cautious in interpreting the relatively low level of support as lessening the importance of making individuals
aware of the policy(ies) governing record use and availability outside the criminal justice system. In light of the higher support
for an impartial review system to investigate and correct the improper use of records, a reasonable conclusion is that some
respondents focused more on the first two components of this practice, which relate to record creation and their use within the
criminal justice system.

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 37

Use and distribution of criminal justice records by commercial
enterprises and other organizations
A majority of adults are
concerned about the system of
collecting, maintaining, and
distributing criminal history
records by private companies
and would prefer that the
government maintain such a
system.
• Asked which statement best
reflects their own view:
—Sixty-nine percent of the
respondents chose, “It
worries me that this is
being done by commercial
organizations and I favor
this being done only by the
government.”

—Twenty-two percent said
their views are best
reflected by the statement,
“This commercial system
provides relevant
information from public
record sources for many
important business, social,
and governmental
purposes and is OK.”
—Nine percent declined to
choose between these two
points of view.

• Once again, while there are
some differences among
demographic groups that rise
to the level of statistical
significance, those
differences tend to be small
and at least partially
attributable to variations in
the proportions of those
unable to choose between the
two alternatives. Two of the
more notable variations —
between men and women and
between Whites and AfricanAmericans — are illustrated
in the following table.

___________________________
Q14 Turning from government record systems to the private sector, there are private companies that collect reports
of arrests and trial outcomes from newspaper stories and from various public records, such as criminal court
files. These companies sell this information to private parties, such as private employers, insurance companies
investigating fraud, or lawyers checking out parties or witnesses in civil litigation. The companies also provide
criminal history reports to government licensing agencies, government employers, and other government
agencies. Which ONE of the following judgments about this system of private information suppliers of
criminal history records would you agree with MOST?
GENDER

RACE
AfricanWhite
Amer.
(836)
(102)*
%
%

TOTAL
(1030)
%

Male
(520)
%

Female
(510)
%

It worries me that this is being done by commercial
organizations and I favor this being done only by the
government

69

64

74^

69

69

This commercial system provides relevant information from
public record sources for many important business, social,
and governmental purposes and is OK

22

25^

19

23^

13

Don’t know/None of these

9

11

7

8

17^

(n) =

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
* = Small Base

Page 38

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Use and distribution of criminal justice records by commercial
enterprises and other organizations (continued)
Eighty-five percent of adults
feel that commercial companies
maintaining and distributing
criminal history records should
follow the same rules and
procedures regarding fair
information practices as would

bind government criminal
history agencies.
One out of 10 adults (11%) feels
that “such rules are not
important for private
businesses.”

Again, the few demographic
differences that exist tend to be
small. In this instance, two of
the starkest differences
(illustrated below) are between
Internet users and nonusers and
(again) between Whites and
African-Americans.

___________________________
Q15 Do you feel that these commercial companies should follow the SAME rules and procedures for giving
individuals they report on fair information and fair procedure practices that government criminal history
agencies follow, or do you think such rules are NOT IMPORTANT where private businesses are involved?

(n) =

TOTAL
(1030)
%

INTERNET
Don’t
Use
Use
(630)
(397)
%
%

RACE
AfricanWhite
Amer.
(836)
(102)*
%
%

Commercial companies follow the same rules
and procedures as government agencies

85

90^

78

87^

74

Such rules are not important for private
businesses

11

8

15^

9

19^

Don’t know

4

2

7^

4

7

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
* = Small Base

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 39

Juvenile records
Opinion is more closely divided
when it comes to the access and
publication of juvenile court
records. About one-half of
adults (53%) favor keeping
disclosure restrictions, “because
giving juvenile offenders the
chance to overcome a bad
record is a sound approach.”
Four of 10 adults (40%) favor
opening juvenile records to the
same entities that have access to
adult records, “since protecting
society and the public should be
the primary concern.”

Differences based on education,
race, perceptions of the system’s
respect for civil rights, and
employment within the criminal
justice system appear to affect
views on juvenile records.
• Individuals with at least some
college education are more
likely to favor keeping
restricted access than those
who have not attended (56%
vs. 50%). In addition,
African-Americans are more
likely than Whites to favor
restrictions (69% vs. 51%).

• Similarly, individuals who
have ever worked for a
criminal justice agency and
those who feel the criminal
justice system does not do
well when it comes to
respecting the civil rights of
suspects are more likely to
favor the current policy of
keeping juvenile records
confidential (64% and 59%,
respectively).

___________________________
Q16 Today, many States limit the availability of records about juveniles charged and processed in juvenile courts;
for example, not allowing access to employers, government licensing agencies, or military enlistment offices.
This is based on a judgment that juveniles should be given an opportunity to overcome youthful criminal
behavior. Out of concern over current juvenile crimes, some people would open juvenile records to greater
access. Please listen to the following two policies and indicate which ONE you think would be BEST.

TOTAL
(n) =

(1030)
%

EDUCATION
No
Some
College
College
(410)
(607)
%
%

RACE
AfricanWhite
Amer.
(836)
(102)*
%
%

Keep restrictions on disclosure of juvenile
court records, because giving juvenile
offenders the chance to overcome a bad record
is a sound approach

53

50

56^

51

69^

Open juvenile records to the same government
and private organizations that can get adult
criminal records, since protecting society and
the public should be the primary concern

40

44^

37

43^

22

Don’t know/None of these

6

6

7

6

8

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
* = Small Base

Page 40

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Juvenile records (continued)

TOTAL
(n) =

(1030)
%

CIVIL RIGHTS
Not
Respects
Respect
(726)
(268)
%
%

WORK(ED) IN CRIM.
JUSTICE AGENCY
Yes
(98)*
%

No
(930)
%

Keep restrictions on disclosure of juvenile
court records, because giving juvenile
offenders the chance to overcome a bad
record is a sound approach

53

51

59^

64^

52

Open juvenile records to the same
government and private organizations that
can get adult criminal records, since
protecting society and the public should
be the primary concern

40

43^

35

32

41

Don’t know/None of these

6

6

5

4

7

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
* = Small Base

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 41

Sealing the records of ex-offenders
Although a small majority
favors sealed juvenile records, a
comparable proportion (52%)
favors keeping criminal records
available to employers and
licensing agencies regardless of
the length of time that has
passed since the individual’s
conviction or release. Fortythree percent believe access
should not be granted if a
person convicted of a crime

serves his or her sentence and
then does not violate the law for
a period, such as 5 years.
• In this case, some of the
differences among subgroups
that do arise reverse the order
of preference. Favoring
sealed records are majorities
of African-Americans (60%),
of those ever arrested (55%),
and of those who feel the

criminal justice system does
not respect civil rights (52%).
• In addition, those residing in
less affluent households
(under $50,000 annual
income) are evenly split, with
48% favoring sealing the
records of ex-offenders and
47% favoring continued
access.

___________________________
Q17 Some people believe that if a person convicted of a crime serves his or her sentence and then does not violate
the law for a period, such as 5 years, government record agencies SHOULD NOT make that criminal record
available to employers or licensing agencies. Other people believe employers and government licensing
agencies SHOULD HAVE access to such government records, and be able to consider the fact of a conviction
in the hiring or licensing process. Overall, which of these two approaches do you prefer?

(n) =

TOTAL
(1030)
%

HH INCOME
LT
$50K or
$50K
higher
(516)
(321)
%
%

RACE
AfricanWhite
Amer.
(836)
(102)*
%
%

Should not make criminal records available
after period of time

43

48^

37

40

60^

Should make criminal records available

52

47

58^

55^

33

Don’t know

6

5

5

5

7

CIVIL RIGHTS

ARRESTED

TOTAL
(1030)
%

Respects
(726)
%

Not
Respect
(268)
%

Should not make criminal records available
after period of time

43

39

52^

55^

41

Should make criminal records available

52

55^

43

38

53^

Don’t know

6

5

5

7

5

(n) =

Yes
(101)*
%

No
(923)
%

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
* = Small Base

Page 42

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Uses of fingerprinting
Overall, American adults appear
to consider fingerprinting for
certain governmental purposes
acceptable. However, once
private-sector entities require
fingerprinting, attitudes become
more ambiguous.
• Approximately three-quarters
of adults find fingerprinting
“very acceptable” when a
person is arrested (78%) and
when someone is applying
for a sensitive job, such as
teacher, nursing home

worker, or security guard
(77%). Ninety-four percent
and 93%, respectively, think
these practices are either very
or somewhat acceptable.
• Six out of 10 respondents
think it a very acceptable
practice to fingerprint welfare
program recipients (62%), or
to require a thumbprint on
drivers’ licenses (60%), with
86% and 80%, respectively,
responding very or somewhat
acceptable.

• On the other hand, fewer than
one-half of adults find it very
acceptable to require
fingerprints to cash a check
(45%), buy an airline ticket
(45%), or apply for a job
(37%).
There appears to be no
significant difference in
attitudes based on whether or
not someone has been
fingerprinted.

___________________________
Q18 Identifying a person accurately is a major concern in many areas of life today. In each of the following
situations, how acceptable is it to you that persons be required to give their FINGERPRINTS? Is it very
acceptable, somewhat acceptable, not very acceptable, or not acceptable at all?

VERY
ACCEPTABLE
%

VERY/
SOMEWHAT
ACCEPTABLE
%

NOT VERY/
NOT AT ALL
ACCEPTABLE
%

When individuals are arrested for a criminal offense, so
that a check can be made against criminal history and
wanted persons records

78

94

4

When applying for a government license for sensitive
jobs, such as teachers, nursing home workers, or security
guards

77

93

6

For government welfare program recipients, to detect
double registrations or ineligible persons

62

86

12

To put a thumbprint on drivers’ licenses, to make
successful counterfeiting of drivers’ licenses more
difficult

60

80

18

To cash a check, to help reduce check-cashing fraud

45

71

27

When buying an airline ticket, because of terrorism
threats

45

70

27

When applying for a job, so that the employer could
check for a criminal history record

37

68

31

(N) = (1030)

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 43

Uses of fingerprinting (continued)
As the following tables
illustrate, women tend to be
more favorable toward
fingerprinting requirements.
Similarly, the acceptability of
fingerprinting appears to
increase with age.

African-Americans are far less
inclined to see fingerprinting as
very acceptable in the context of
government welfare programs
(47% vs. 64% among Whites),

but are more likely to see the
requirement as very acceptable
step to reduce check-cashing
fraud (57% vs. 44%).

___________________________
Q18 Identifying a person accurately is a major concern in many areas of life today. In each of the following
situations, how acceptable is it to you that persons be required to give their FINGERPRINTS? Is it very
acceptable, somewhat acceptable, not very acceptable, or not acceptable at all?
VERY ACCEPTABLE SUMMARY

(n) =

GENDER
Male
Female
(520)
(510)
%
%

18-34
(326)
%

AGE
35-54
(440)
%

55+
(257)
%

White
(836)
%

RACE
Afr.-Amer.
(102)*
%

When individuals are arrested for a
criminal offense, so that a check can be
made against criminal history and wanted
persons records

77

79

75

79

79

79^

70

When applying for a government license
for sensitive jobs, such as teachers,
nursing home workers, or security guards

71

81^

76

76

79

77

78

For government welfare program
recipients, to detect double registrations
or ineligible persons

59

65

58

63

66^

64^

47

To put a thumbprint on drivers’ licenses,
to make successful counterfeiting of
drivers’ licenses more difficult

55

65^

53

61^

68^

60

66

To cash a check, to help reduce checkcashing fraud

42

49^

42

44

52^

44

57^

When buying an airline ticket, because of
terrorism threats

40

50^

36

46^

56^^

45

50

When applying for a job, so that the
employer could check for a criminal
history record

32

41^

30

34

49^^

37

35

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
* = Small Base

Page 44

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Posting of information on the Internet
Most adults (90%) say that they
prefer that State agencies not
use the Internet to post criminal
history information that is
already a matter of public
record.

There is no indication that
attitudes toward Internet posting
will substantially change in the
near future. Even among
younger adults (under 35),
current Internet users, and those

with a low concern about the
misuse of personal information,
opposition exceeds 80%.

___________________________
Q19 Some people believe that State government agencies that maintain criminal history records that are open to the
general public under their State law should post these on the Internet, so that anyone who wanted to could
check whether someone had such a record. Other people feel that even though such records could be obtained
by applying to the government record agency for a copy, it isn’t a good idea to put all those records on the
Internet for anyone to obtain.
Which would you prefer: State agencies putting all these records on the Internet, or not doing that?

AGE

INTERNET
Don’t
Use
Use
(630)
(397)
%
%

TOTAL
(1030)
%

18-34
(326)
%

35-54
(440)
%

55+
(257)
%

Putting records
on the Internet

9

13^^

8^

4

11^

Not putting
records on the
Internet

90

87

90

94^

Don’t know

1

**

1

3

(n) =

LEVEL OF
CONCERN ABOUT
MISUSE OF
PERSONAL
INFORMATION
High
(666)
%

Med.
(261)
%

Low
(97)*
%

5

7

11

15^

88

93^

92^^

88

82

1

2

1

2

3^

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
* = Small Base
** = Less than one-half of 1%

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 45

Page 46

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Summary of factors influencing attitudes
toward the use of criminal history records

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 47

Overview
The survey instrument was
designed to capture
demographic, experiential, and
attitudinal characteristics that
were thought likely to have an
impact on or a relationship to
respondents’ views on the use of
criminal history records outside
the criminal justice system.
Throughout the detailed
findings are references to key
differences where those
differences are statistically
significant at the 95%
confidence level.5 In many
cases, differences either do not
exist or were marginal.6
However, a few patterns do
emerge.
• Attitudes toward access to
criminal history records tend
to correlate somewhat to age,
income, education, and race.
—Younger adults, persons
with less education, and
those in lower-income
households tend to favor
less access to criminal
history records.

—African-Americans often
demonstrate a greater
preference for less access
compared to those who
identified themselves as
White.
• In terms of attitudes, the
perception of how well the
criminal justice system
respects the civil rights of
suspects and the general level
of concern about the misuse
of personal information also
shows some correlation with
attitudes toward criminal
history information.
—Those who feel the system
does not respect civil
rights very well and those
who have a high level of
concern about the misuse
of personal information
tend to show greater
likelihood of preference
for restrictions on access
to criminal history
information.
The following tables summarize
the experiential, attitudinal, and
demographic factors examined.

5

See Appendix 1 for notes on
significance testing between
independent subgroups.
6

Several groupings that would selfevidently seem to have a bearing on
attitudes (for example, legal and/or
criminal justice experience, whether the
individual was ever arrested, and so on)
yielded unweighted base sizes below
100. At that level, differences need to
be extremely great. Accordingly, these
groups are cited infrequently herein.

Page 48

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Experience/Attitudinal summary
The following tables summarize the experience and attitudinal factors examined.

TOTAL
(1030)
%

(n) =

GENDER
Male
Female
(520)
(510)
%
%

White
(836)
%

RACE
Afr.-Amer.
(102)*
%

KNOWLEDGE OF CRIMINAL
JUSTICE SYSTEM
High

13

17^

9

14

7

Moderate

57

62^

53

59^

44

Low

30

21

38^

27

47^

45

OVERALL EFFECTIVENESS OF
CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
High

53

52

54

55

Moderate

24

25

23

24

21

Low

24

23

24

22

34^

Respects

70

70

70

74^

46

Doesn’t Respect

26

27

26

23

52^

SYSTEM RESPECTS CIVIL RIGHTS

LEVEL OF CONCERN ABOUT
MISUSE OF PERSONAL
INFORMATION
High

64

61

67

62

79^

Moderate

25

27

24

28^

14

Low

10

11

8

10

5

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
(Categories may not add to 100% due to either rounding or the option to decline to respond to some questions)
* = Small base

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 49

Experience/Attitudinal summary (continued)
AGE
(n) =

TOTAL
(1030)
%

18-24
(111)
%

25-34
(215)
%

35-44
(224)
%

45-54
(216)
%

55-64
(133)
%

65+
(124)
%

KNOWLEDGE OF CRIMINAL
JUSTICE SYSTEM
High

13

11

15

13

15

13

9

Moderate

57

57

59

63^

57^

62^

43

Low

30

31

26

23

27

24

48^

High

53

56

53

54

53

58

45

Moderate

24

29

25

22

23

21

22

Low

24

14

22

24

25

20

32

Respects

70

71

72

68

70

75

64

Doesn’t Respect

26

27

26

28

25

22

29

OVERALL EFFECTIVENESS OF
CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

SYSTEM RESPECTS CIVIL RIGHTS

LEVEL OF CONCERN ABOUT
MISUSE OF PERSONAL
INFORMATION
High

64

57

64

60

65

69

73^

Moderate

25

27

26

30^

26

24

18

Low

10

16^

9

10

9

7

7

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
(Categories may not add to 100% due to either rounding or the option to decline to respond to some questions)
* = Small base

Page 50

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Experience/Attitudinal summary (continued)
TOTAL
(1030)
%

(n) =

GENDER
Male
Female
(520)
(510)
%
%

White
(836)
%

RACE
Afr.-Amer.
(102)*
%

PRIVACY VICTIM OF LAW
ENFORCEMENT
Yes

12

16^

9

11

21^

No

87

83

90^

88^

78

Yes

61

72^

51

60

67

No

38

27

48^

39

32

Yes

9

12^

7

10

4

No

91

88

93^

90

94

EVER BEEN FINGERPRINTED

WORK(ED) FOR CRIMINAL
JUSTICE AGENCY

LAW TRAINED
Yes

7

8

6

7^

2

No

93

92

94

93

97

Yes

10

15^

5

9

16^

No

90

84

95^

91^

83

EVER ARRESTED

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
(Categories may not add to 100% due to either rounding or the option to decline to respond to some questions)
* = Small base

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 51

Experience/Attitudinal summary (continued)
AGE
TOTAL
(1030)
%

18-24
(111)
%

25-34
(215)
%

35-44
(224)
%

45-54
(216)
%

Yes

12

23^^

13^

15^

11^

8

3

No

87

77

87^

84

88^

90^

94^

Yes

61

58

63

63

60

56

64

No

38

42

36

37

37

43

35

(n) =

55-64
(133)
%

65+
(124)
%

PRIVACY VICTIM OF LAW
ENFORCEMENT

EVER BEEN FINGERPRINTED

WORK(ED) FOR CRIMINAL
JUSTICE AGENCY
Yes

9

3

13^

10^

13^

7

6

No

91

97^

87

90

87

93

93

LAW TRAINED
Yes

7

6

8

8

5

6

8

No

93

94

92

92

95

94

91

Yes

10

15^

14^

15^

5

5

2

No

90

85

86

85

94^

95^

98^

EVER ARRESTED

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
(Categories may not add to 100% due to either rounding or the option to decline to respond to some questions)
* = Small base

Page 52

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Experience/Attitudinal summary (continued)

TOTAL
(1030)
%

LT
$15K
(102)*
%

$15K-LT
$25K
(126)
%

High

13

11

14

Moderate

57

49

Low

30

39^

(n) =

HH INCOME
$25K-LT
$35K-LT
$35K
$50K
(144)
(144)
%
%

$50K or
Higher
(321)
%

KNOWLEDGE OF CRIMINAL
JUSTICE SYSTEM
14

11

13

43

51

62^

68^^

43^

35^

27^

19

OVERALL EFFECTIVENESS OF
CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
High

53

51

56

49

52

59

Moderate

24

17

19

30

26

23

Low

24

32

25

21

22

17

Respects

70

61

68

71

66

77^

Doesn’t Respect

26

33

28

24

33

21

High

64

72^

69^

65

63

57

Moderate

25

15

23

24

27^

32^

Low

10

9

7

11

10

11

SYSTEM RESPECTS CIVIL RIGHTS

LEVEL OF CONCERN ABOUT
MISUSE OF PERSONAL
INFORMATION

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
(Categories may not add to 100% due to either rounding or the option to decline to respond to some questions)
* = Small base

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 53

Experience/Attitudinal summary (continued)
EDUCATION
HS
Some
Grad
College
(326)
(241)
%
%

TOTAL
(1030)
%

HS
Incomplete
(84)*
%

High

13

13

9

12

17^

Moderate

57

34

52^

64^^

64^^

Low

30

53^^

38^

24

19

(n) =

College
Grad
(366)
%

KNOWLEDGE OF CRIMINAL
JUSTICE SYSTEM

OVERALL EFFECTIVENESS OF
CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
High

53

43

52

54

57

Moderate

24

24

18

28^

26^

Low

24

33

30^

19

17

Respects

70

57

68

70^

76^

Doesn’t Respect

26

35^

27

28

22

High

64

68

66^

70^

58

Moderate

25

20

25

23

30

Low

10

10

8

8

12

SYSTEM RESPECTS CIVIL RIGHTS

LEVEL OF CONCERN ABOUT
MISUSE OF PERSONAL
INFORMATION

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
(Categories may not add to 100% due to either rounding or the option to decline to respond to some questions)
* = Small base

Page 54

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Experience/Attitudinal summary (continued)
HH INCOME
$25K-LT
$35K-LT
$35K
$50K
(144)
(144)
%
%

TOTAL
(1030)
%

LT
$15K
(102)*
%

$15K-LT
$25K
(126)
%

Yes

12

19^

9

14

20^

9

No

87

78

88

84

80

91^

Yes

61

54

57

63

66

63

No

38

44

43

37

34

36

(n) =

$50K or
Higher
(321)
%

PRIVACY VICTIM OF LAW
ENFORCEMENT

EVER BEEN FINGERPRINTED

WORK(ED) FOR CRIMINAL
JUSTICE AGENCY
Yes

9

3

4

8

10^

13^

No

91

96^

96^

92

90

87

Yes

7

2

2

5

7

9^

No

93

96

98^

95

93

91

Yes

10

21^

12

7

12

8

No

90

77

88^

93^

88^

92^

LAW TRAINED

EVER ARRESTED

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
(Categories may not add to 100% due to either rounding or the option to decline to respond to some questions)
* = Small base

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 55

Experience/Attitudinal summary (continued)
EDUCATION
HS
Some
Grad
College
(326)
(241)
%
%

TOTAL
(1030)
%

HS
Incomplete
(84)*
%

Yes

12

18^

12

17^

8

No

87

79

86

82

92^

Yes

61

64

56

65

62

No

38

34

43^

34

36

(n) =

College
Grad
(366)
%

PRIVACY VICTIM OF LAW
ENFORCEMENT

EVER BEEN FINGERPRINTED

WORK(ED) FOR CRIMINAL
JUSTICE AGENCY
Yes

9

3

6

11^

13^

No

91

96^

94^

89

87

Yes

7

1

2

7^

13^^

No

93

97

98^

93^

87

Yes

10

19^

10

11^

6

No

90

80^

89^

89

93^

LAW TRAINED

EVER ARRESTED

^(^^) = Significantly higher than corresponding column(s) at the 95% confidence level
(Categories may not add to 100% due to either rounding or the option to decline to respond to some questions)
* = Small base

Page 56

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Demographic profile
The following table summarizes the demographic factors examined
(n) = (1030)
%
GENDER
Male
Female

48
52

AGE
18-24
25-34
35-44
45-54
55-64
65 and older

13
20
22
17
11
16

RACE/ETHNICITY
White
Black/African-American
Asian/Asian-American
Some other race
Hispanic household (any race)

83
12
1
4
7

INTERNET
Users
Non-users

60
40

%
HOUSEHOLD INCOME
Less than $25,000
$25,000 to less than $50,000
$50,000 or higher

24
28
30

EDUCATION
High School Incomplete
High School Graduate
Some College
College Graduate

9
32
23
34

GEOGRAPHIC REGION
Northeast
North Central (Midwest)
South
West

20
23
36
22

(Categories may not add to 100% due to either rounding or the option to decline to respond to some questions)

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 57

Page 58

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Appendix 1:
Sampling variations and tolerances

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 59

Reliability of survey percentages
Results of any sample are
subject to sampling variation.
The magnitude of the variation
is measurable and is affected by
the number of interviews and
the level of the percentages
expressing the results.
Size of Sample on which
Survey Results
are Based

10% or 90%

The table below shows the
possible sample variation that
applies to percentage results
reported herein. The chances are
95 in 100 that a survey result
does not vary, plus or minus, by
more than the indicated number

of percentage points from the
result that would be obtained if
interviews had been conducted
with all persons in the universe
represented by the sample.

Approximate Sampling Tolerances Applicable
to Percentages At or Near These Levels
20% or 80%
30% or 70%
40% or 60%

50%

1,000 interviews

2%

2%

3%

3%

3%

500 interviews

3%

4%

4%

4%

4%

250 interviews

4%

5%

6%

6%

6%

100 interviews

6%

8%

9%

10%

10%

Additional Sampling Tolerances for Samples of 1,000 Interviews
9% or 91%
2%

8% or 92%
2%

7% or 93%
2%

6% or 94%
1%

4% or 96%
1%

3% or 97%
1%

2% or 98%
1%

1% or 99%
.2%

Page 60

5% or 95%
1%

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Sampling tolerances when comparing two samples
Tolerances are also involved in
the comparison of results from
independent parts of the sample.
A difference, in other words,
must be of at least a certain
number of percentage points to
be considered statistically

significant — that is, not due to
random chance. The table below
is a guide to the sampling
tolerances in percentage points
applicable to such comparisons,
based on a 95% confidence
level.

Size of Samples
Compared

10% or 90%

Differences Required for Significance At
or Near These Percentage Levels
20% or 80%
30% or 70%
40% or 60%

1,000 and 1,000

3%

4%

4%

4%

4%

1,000 and 500

3%

4%

5%

5%

5%

1,000 and 250

4%

6%

6%

7%

7%

1,000 and 100

6%

8%

9%

10%

10%

500 and 500

4%

5%

6%

6%

6%

500 and 250

5%

6%

7%

7%

8%

500 and 100

6%

9%

10%

11%

11%

250 and 250

5%

7%

8%

9%

9%

250 and 100

7%

9%

11%

11%

12%

100 and 100

8%

11%

13%

14%

14%

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

50%

Page 61

Page 62

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Appendix 2:
Questionnaire

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 63

OPINION RESEARCH CORPORATION INTERNATIONAL
FEBRUARY 22, 2000
PRIVACY & CRIMINAL JUSTICE
32632
BALLOT #
TELEPHONE #
STATE
COUNTY
METRO
SURVEY # (LAST 3 DIGITS)
CALL

TELEPHONE NUMBER: ( _______ ) _____________TIME ENDED: ____________________________
TIME STARTED: _________________________
349-352

LENGTH: ______________________ (MINUTES)

SEX OF RESPONDENT:

DATE: __________________________________

372

1

MALE

INTERVIEWER: __________________________

2

FEMALE

I.D.:_____________________________________

Hello, I’m _________________________ calling from Opinion Research Corporation International of Princeton,
New Jersey. We’re conducting a national survey of people’s opinions on privacy and criminal justice and would like
to have your household participate. We are not selling any products or services. We are only asking your opinions.
Now, may I please speak to a (male/female) 18 years of age or older who lives in this household?

Page 64

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

PRIVACY AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Q

FEBRUARY 22, 2000
32632

1
First of all . . .
Q1

How much do you know about the American system of criminal justice — the way police, prosecutors,
courts, and defense counsel work? Would you say you know a great deal, know the basics, don’t know very
much, or don’t know about this area at all?
1
2
3
4
5

Q2

KNOW A GREAT DEAL
KNOW THE BASICS
DON’T KNOW VERY MUCH
DON’T KNOW ABOUT THIS AREA AT ALL
DON’T KNOW

From what you have read or heard, or any personal experiences, how effective do you think the overall
American criminal justice system is in each of the following areas? Do you think it is very effective,
somewhat effective, not very effective, or not effective at all? (READ LIST)
1
2
3
4
5

Very effective
Somewhat effective
Not very effective
Not effective at all
DON’T KNOW

In investigating and arresting persons suspected of committing crimes
In prosecuting accused persons
In reaching just outcomes at criminal trials
Q3

How well do you think the criminal justice system as a whole respects the civil liberties or constitutional
rights of persons who become involved as suspects? Would you say . . . (READ LIST)
1
2
3
4
5

Q4

Very well
Somewhat well
Not very well
Not well at all
DON’T KNOW

Government agencies collect and store the criminal history records of persons arrested, prosecuted, and
convicted or acquitted in the State and Federal criminal justice systems. They store these records in
computerized record systems. Police, prosecutors, defense counsel, and court officers use these records to
carry out their missions. Have you read or heard about this criminal history record system?
1
2
3

YES
NO
DON’T KNOW/REFUSED

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 65

PRIVACY AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Q

FEBRUARY 22, 2000
32632

2
Q5

Under American law and practice, government criminal history records are made available to some
government and private users outside the criminal justice system. Please listen to three different policies for
making such government records available and indicate which ONE you would prefer. (READ ENTIRE
LIST BEFORE RECORDING ONE ANSWER)
1
2

3

4

A COMPLETELY OPEN SYSTEM, where anyone can obtain either the conviction or the arrestwithout-conviction record about an individual, because such broad access helps protect society
A PARTIALLY OPEN SYSTEM, where anyone can obtain CONVICTION records but NOT
records of arrests WITHOUT CONVICTIONS, because persons not convicted are presumed
innocent in our constitutional system
A system OPEN ONLY TO SELECTED USERS for either conviction or nonconviction records,
such as employers or government licensing authorities, because society feels certain users have a
valid need but others do not have a valid need
DON’T KNOW/NONE OF THESE

Regardless of the view you just expressed, we’d like to explore some issues of criminal history record use in greater
detail, starting with CONVICTION records.
Q6

How do you feel about EMPLOYERS being able to obtain from government agencies the conviction
records of persons applying to them for jobs? Do you feel ALL employers should be able to get such
records, NO employers should be able to get these, or it should DEPEND ON WHETHER THE JOB
INVOLVES SENSITIVE WORK, such as handling money, dealing with children, or serving as security
guards?
1
2
3
4

Q7

How do you feel about GOVERNMENT AGENCIES THAT ISSUE OCCUPATIONAL LICENSES
obtaining CONVICTION records from the record agencies? Do you feel that ALL license agencies should
have access, NONE should have access, or it should DEPEND ON WHETHER THE LICENSE WILL BE
FOR JOBS INVOLVING SENSITIVE WORK?
1
2
3
4

Page 66

ALL
NONE
DEPENDS ON JOB
DON’T KNOW

ALL
NONE
DEPENDS ON JOB
DON’T KNOW

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

PRIVACY AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Q

FEBRUARY 22, 2000
32632

3
Q8

Here are some other groups that might want to get CONVICTION records. For each, would you favor them
having access or not? (READ AND ROTATE ITEMS)
1
2
3

Favor groups having access to CONVICTION records
Do not favor groups having access to CONVICTION records
DON’T KNOW

Banks deciding on personal loan applications
Reporters wanting to find out about political candidates
Individuals wanting to learn if a neighbor has any criminal record
Insurance companies investigating claims for possible fraud
Private organizations, like the Boy Scouts, that work with children
The military services, in screening persons seeking to enlist
Companies that issue credit cards
Q9

Now, please think about government records of persons ARRESTED BUT NOT CONVICTED. Would
you take the SAME position on groups having access to those records as you just did for CONVICTION
records, or would you take some DIFFERENT positions as to records of ARRESTS WITHOUT
CONVICTIONS?
1
2
3

Q10

How do you feel about EMPLOYERS being able to obtain from government agencies the arrest-withoutconviction records of persons applying to them for jobs? Do you feel ALL employers should be able to get
such records, NO employers should be able to get these, or it should DEPEND ON WHETHER THE JOB
INVOLVES SENSITIVE WORK, such as handling money, dealing with children, or serving as security
guards?
1
2
3
4

Q11

SAME POSITION -->SKIP TO Q13
DIFFERENT POSITIONS -->CONTINUE
DON’T KNOW -->SKIP TO Q13

ALL
NONE
DEPENDS ON JOB
DON’T KNOW

How do you feel about GOVERNMENT AGENCIES THAT ISSUE OCCUPATIONAL LICENSES
obtaining the arrest-without-conviction records from the record agencies? Do you feel that ALL license
agencies should have access, NONE should have access, or it should DEPEND ON WHETHER THE
LICENSE WILL BE FOR JOBS INVOLVING SENSITIVE WORK?
1
2
3
4

ALL
NONE
DEPENDS ON JOB
DON’T KNOW

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 67

PRIVACY AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Q

FEBRUARY 22, 2000
32632

4
Q12

Here are some other groups that might want to get ARREST-WITHOUT-CONVICTION records. For each,
would you favor them having access or not? (READ AND ROTATE ITEMS)
1
2
3

Favor groups having access to ARREST-WITHOUT-CONVICTION records
Do not favor groups having access to ARREST-WITHOUT-CONVICTION records
DON’T KNOW

Banks deciding on personal loan applications
Reporters wanting to find out about political candidates
Individuals wanting to learn if a neighbor has any criminal record
Insurance companies investigating claims for possible fraud
Private organizations, like the Boy Scouts, that work with children
The military services, in screening persons seeking to enlist
Companies that issue credit cards
(ASK EVERYONE)
Q13
Here are some policies that could be set to protect individual rights of persons having a criminal history
record in government files. For each of these, indicate whether you think requiring such a policy is very
important, somewhat important, not too important, or not important at all. (READ LIST)
1
2
3
4
5

Very important
Somewhat important
Not too important
Not important at all
DON’T KNOW

Each person would be informed when a record is created what the record is, how it will be used inside the
criminal justice system, and what policies will be followed in making the record available outside the
criminal justice system
Each person would have the right to see his or her record, and to have items felt to be incorrect re-checked
by the recordkeeping agency and corrected, if in error
An impartial procedure would be available for receiving, investigating, and resolving complaints by
individuals about misuse of their records or failure to follow agency policies

Page 68

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

PRIVACY AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Q

FEBRUARY 22, 2000
32632

5
Q14

Turning from government record systems to the private sector, there are private companies that collect
reports of arrests and trial outcomes from newspaper stories and from various public records, such as
criminal court files. These companies sell this information to private parties, such as private employers,
insurance companies investigating fraud, or lawyers checking out parties or witnesses in civil litigation.
The companies also provide criminal history reports to government licensing agencies, government
employers, and other government agencies. Which ONE of the following judgments about this system of
private information suppliers of criminal history records would you agree with MOST? (READ LIST)
1
2
3

Q15

Do you feel that these commercial companies should follow the SAME rules and procedures for giving
individuals they report on fair information and fair procedure practices that government criminal history
agencies follow, or do you think such rules are NOT IMPORTANT where private businesses are involved?
1
2
3

Q16

This commercial system provides relevant information from public record sources for many
important business, social, and governmental purposes and is OK
It worries me that this is being done by commercial organizations and I favor this being done only
by the government
DON’T KNOW/NONE OF THESE

COMMERCIAL COMPANIES FOLLOW THE SAME RULES AND PROCEDURES AS
GOVERNMENT AGENCIES
SUCH RULES ARE NOT IMPORTANT FOR PRIVATE BUSINESSES
DON’T KNOW

Today, many States limit the availability of records about juveniles charged and processed in juvenile
courts; for example, not allowing access to employers, government licensing agencies, or military
enlistment offices. This is based on a judgment that juveniles should be given an opportunity to overcome
youthful criminal behavior. Out of concern over current juvenile crimes, some people would open juvenile
records to greater access. Please listen to the following two policies and indicate which ONE you think
would be BEST. (READ LIST)
1
2
3

Keep restrictions on disclosure of juvenile court records, because giving juvenile offenders the
chance to overcome a bad record is a sound approach
Open juvenile records to the same government and private organizations that can get adult
criminal records, since protecting society and the public should be the primary concern
DON’T KNOW/NONE OF THESE

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 69

PRIVACY AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Q

FEBRUARY 22, 2000
32632

6
Q17

Some people believe that if a person convicted of a crime serves his or her sentence and then does not
violate the law for a period, such as 5 years, government record agencies SHOULD NOT make that
criminal record available to employers or licensing agencies.
Other people believe employers and government licensing agencies SHOULD HAVE access to such
government records, and be able to consider the fact of a conviction in the hiring or licensing process.
Overall, which of these two approaches do you prefer?
1
2
3

Q18

SHOULD NOT MAKE CRIMINAL RECORDS AVAILABLE AFTER PERIOD OF TIME
SHOULD MAKE CRIMINAL RECORDS AVAILABLE
DON’T KNOW

Identifying a person accurately is a major concern in many areas of life today. In each of the following
situations, how acceptable is it to you that persons be required to give their FINGERPRINTS? Is it very
acceptable, somewhat acceptable, not very acceptable, or not acceptable at all? (READ AND ROTATE
ITEMS)
1
2
3
4
5

Very acceptable
Somewhat acceptable
Not very acceptable
Not acceptable at all
DON’T KNOW

When individuals are arrested for a criminal offense, so that a check can be made against criminal history
and wanted persons records
To put a thumbprint on drivers’ licenses, to make successful counterfeiting of drivers’ licenses more
difficult
To cash a check, to help reduce check-cashing fraud
When applying for a job, so that the employer could check for a criminal history record
When applying for a government license for sensitive jobs, such as teachers, nursing home workers, or
security guards
When buying an airline ticket, because of terrorism threats
For government welfare program recipients, to detect double registrations or ineligible persons

Page 70

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

PRIVACY AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Q

FEBRUARY 22, 2000
32632

7
Q19

Some people believe that State government agencies that maintain criminal history records that are open to
the general public under their State law should post these on the Internet, so that anyone who wanted to
could check whether someone had such a record.
Other people feel that even though such records could be obtained by applying to the government record
agency for a copy, it isn’t a good idea to put all those records on the Internet for anyone to obtain.
Which would you prefer: State agencies putting all these records on the Internet, or not doing that?
1
2
3

Q20

PUTTING RECORDS ON THE INTERNET
NOT PUTTING RECORDS ON THE INTERNET
DON’T KNOW

For each of the following types of personal records, please indicate whether you think it is true or false that
anyone using the Internet can PURCHASE this kind of record from PRIVATE SERVICES on any person
they are interested in, for any purpose that they have in mind. (READ AND ROTATE ITEMS)
1
2
3

True
False
DON’T KNOW

Anyone’s criminal conviction record
Anyone’s arrest record, even if not convicted
Anyone’s credit bureau report
Anyone’s Social Security number
Anyone’s bank checking account balance
Anyone’s credit card numbers
Q21

How concerned are you about the possible misuse of your personal information in America today? Are
you…(READ LIST)
1
2
3
4
5

Very concerned
Somewhat concerned
Not very concerned
Not concerned at all
DON’T KNOW

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 71

PRIVACY AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Q

FEBRUARY 22, 2000
32632

8
Q22

Have you personally ever been the victim of what you felt was an improper invasion of privacy by any of
the following? (READ AND ROTATE ITEMS)
1
2
3

Yes
No
DON’T KNOW

A business collecting and using information about you
A law enforcement agency
A government tax, social service, welfare, or license agency
A charitable, political, or nonprofit organization
Q23

Have you ever had your fingerprints taken, for example, for military service, applying for a job or a
government license, or for any other identification purpose?
1
2
3

Q24

YES -->CONTINUE
NO
DON’T KNOW/REFUSED -->SKIP TO Q25

Did you feel that doing this was an appropriate requirement or not an appropriate requirement?
1
2
3

APPROPRIATE
NOT APPROPRIATE
DON’T KNOW/REFUSED

Just for background purposes, please answer the following questions about yourself.
Q25

Do you now work or have you ever worked for any kind of criminal justice agency, such as the police,
prosecutor’s offices, courts, or corrections agency?
1
2
3

Q26

Are you a lawyer, do you work for a law firm or legal department, or have you had legal training?
1
2
3

Q27

YES
NO
DON’T KNOW/REFUSED

Do you use the Internet today from home, work, school, or any other place?
1
2
3

Page 72

YES
NO
DON’T KNOW/REFUSED

YES
NO
DON’T KNOW/REFUSED

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

PRIVACY AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Q

FEBRUARY 22, 2000
32632

9
Q28

Have you personally ever sought to obtain the criminal conviction record about another person, for any
reason, apart from any such inquiry in your duties at work?
1
2
3

Q29

Have you ever been arrested for a criminal offense, other than driving violations?
1
2
3

Q30

YES
NO
DON’T KNOW/REFUSED

What was the last grade in school you completed?
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8

S8

YES -->CONTINUE
NO
DON’T KNOW/REFUSED -->SKIP TO S7

Were you convicted for that offense or not?
1
2
3

S7

YES
NO
DON’T KNOW/REFUSED

8TH GRADE OR LESS
HIGH SCHOOL INCOMPLETE (GRADES 9, 10, 11)
HIGH SCHOOL COMPLETE (GRADE 12)
SOME COLLEGE
COLLEGE GRADUATE
POSTGRADUATE WORK/DEGREE
TECHNICAL SCHOOL/PROFESSIONAL BUSINESS SCHOOL
REFUSED/NR

What is your age?
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12

18-20
21-24
25-29
30-34
35-39
40-44
45-49
50-54
55-59
60-64
65 OR OLDER
REFUSED/NR

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

Page 73

PRIVACY AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Q

FEBRUARY 22, 2000
32632

10
S9

Which of the following best describes your race? (READ LIST)
1
2
3
4
5

S9A

Are you, or is anyone else in your household Hispanic? That is, from a Spanish-speaking country, or the
descendent of someone from a Spanish-speaking country.
1
2
3

S10

White/Caucasian
Black/African-American
Asian/Asian-American, or
Some other race
REFUSED/NR

YES
NO
REFUSED/NR

Was your TOTAL household income BEFORE taxes for 1999 less than $25,000 or $25,000 or more?
1

2

3

LESS THAN $25,000

--> Was that . . . ? (READ CHOICES.)

1

Under $10,000

2

$10,000 but less than $15,000

3

$15,000 but less than $20,000

4

$20,000 but less than $25,000

5

REFUSED

$25,000 OR MORE

--> Was that . . . ? (READ CHOICES.)

1

$25,000 but less than $30,000

2

$30,000 but less than $35,000

3

$35,000 but less than $40,000

4

$40,000 but less than $50,000

5

$50,000 but less than $75,000

6

$75,000 but less than $100,000

7

$100,000 or more

8

REFUSED (UNSPECIFIED AFTER $25,000 LESS OR MORE)

DON’T KNOW/REFUSED/NR

Thank you very much for your time. May I please verify that I reached you by dialing . .
______________ __________________________
(AREA CODE)
(TELEPHONE NUMBER)

Page 74

Public Attitudes Toward Uses of Criminal History Information

 

 

Prisoner Education Guide side
CLN Subscribe Now Ad
Prisoner Education Guide side