By Chelsea S. Keefer, Document Specialist, Nlets, Phoenix, Arizona
n the past several years, the justice and public safety communities have been faced with major cases involving individuals on parole or on probation. One example is the murder of Eve Carson, student body president of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where two individuals on probation were arrested for the crime.1 Officers need this critical corrections information and images on the street to quickly identify these individuals. In most jurisdictions, officers and investigators have no easy access to any corrections data.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics special report “Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994,” an estimated 67.5 percent of released prisoners were arrested for a felony or a serious misdemeanor within three years.2 Corrections photos and inmate information provide tremendous benefits to law enforcement agencies since, in many cases, the images provide the most current appearance available for individuals that are highly likely to come into contact with officers. The International Justice and Public Safety Network (Nlets) has undertaken a project called Nlets Interstate Sharing of Photos (NISP) to facilitate sharing of images among law enforcement communities in participating states.
Nlets received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), with support from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to demonstrate the viability of exchanging interstate driver’s license (DL) photos. ARJIS (Automated Regional Justice Information System) San Diego, which also received funding for a companion project and which is a Regional-Associate member of Nlets, manages the State, Regional, and Federal Enterprise Retrieval System (SRFERS). The SRFERS project is the vehicle used by ARJIS to disseminate the grant funding. SRFERS relies on the procedures and specifications developed under the NISP project phases.
In Phase I of the NISP project, results from three pilot states assisted in the development of procedures and technical specifications necessary to expand program functionality across the United States. Phase I also addressed policy issues, such as privacy and archiving of photos. NISP Phases II and III increased the number of participating states and continued the partnership with ARJIS. So far, the NISP project has helped to create more comprehensive privacy guidance documentation; developed and refined a toolkit to assist all future states; added equipment and software to the Nlets network; and captured lessons learned.
Since April, 12 states have gone live with DL photo sharing: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, and Virginia. Eight additional states are scheduled to go live this year: Delaware, New Jersey, Indiana, South Carolina, Vermont, Mississippi, Montana, and Wyoming.
Nlets and SRFERS also implemented a pilot program for sharing corrections images and inmate information over the Nlets network. North Carolina and Oregon are involved in the pilot project. The project team has completed several critical steps, including a privacy study, technical specifications, and policy. The policy is governed by Nlets, and all interstate transactions use the Nlets network.
Currently, both North Carolina and Oregon are live with sharing corrections information. Officers can query these databases using any of the following information: name, date of birth, and one or more of sex, race, and eye color information; U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) number; state identification (SID) number; DL number; Social Security number; or department of corrections (DOC) number. The system then returns the following information, if available:
- Image (anyone who is in the system or has ever been in the system)
- FBI, SID, DOC, DL, and Social Security numbers
- Home address
- Scars, marks, and tattoos
- Date of birth
- Sex, eye color, and hair color
- If released, probation status, place of release, and probation agency
- Caveat on any special warnings or information
Public Dissemination of Information
An authorized criminal justice agency user can inquire on the corrections databases for a legitimate criminal justice purpose. Corrections information can be shared with other criminal justice agency personnel where it will further a legitimate criminal justice purpose. Personally identifying information made accessible over the Nlets network by DOCs is not to be disseminated to the public, with the following exceptions:
- Limited release of information: The release of corrections information from Nlets must be limited to information that could reasonably protect the public from harm.
- Public safety: Where the head law enforcement official or the elected prosecutor of a jurisdiction reasonably determines that an individual poses a threat of substantial harm to the public, corrections information about the subject contributed to the Nlets network may be released to the public. The official or prosecutor must document the determination.
- Photo lineups: Corrections information, including corrections photographs, may be used in a photo lineup to further a law enforcement investigation.
- Warrants: Where a warrant has been issued for a known suspect, and where the suspect’s corrections photo has been verified by a third party, the suspect’s corrections photo can be publicly disclosed for the purposes of locating the suspect or protecting the public.
- Missing persons: Upon its verification by a third party, the corrections photograph of an individual reported missing can be publicly disclosed to help authorities locate the missing person.
As a result of the NISP project, officers will be able to receive real-time images and information about offenders. The ability to share corrections and DL images within and outside of jurisdictions will lead to immediate, positive identification and detection of fraudulent use of DLs. This means agencies can more effectively serve their communities and protect the public. As Bob Brinson, chief information officer of the North Carolina Department of Correction, put it,
Even though this photo sharing effort is still new, we are already finding ways to leverage the message for new purposes. North Carolina will add a “spin-off” query to Corrections when an officer makes a warrant or driver license check. We will use this message structure to respond, essentially saying, “Corrections knows something about the individual you stopped.” Corrections agencies around the country are a rich source of photographs of an offender population that moves in and out of our communities. This group works hard not to be identified. These photos will help law enforcement identify these people faster and more surely, and this makes all of us safer.
Nlets is also working with both the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and DHS for nationwide deployment of NISP and corrections photo sharing. To ensure that the program is truly successful and broadly beneficial, NISP will have to be deployed throughout the United States.
For more information on the NISP project or to request a NISP toolkit, readers can contact Bonnie Locke, director of program management for Nlets, at email@example.com. ■
1Doug Pardue and Glenn Smith, “A Public at Risk: A Look at South Carolina's Broken Probation and Parole System,” Post and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), August 24, 2008, http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2008/aug/24/a_public_at_risk51870/?print (accessed June 2, 2009).
2Patrick A. Langan and David J. Levin, “Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994,” Bureau of Justice Statistics special report, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/rpr94.pdf (accessed June 2, 2009).