Background checks and criminal filings just got more accessible for 10 American Indian tribes, as the Department of Justice granted them access to national crime databases for civil and criminal purposes.
Access to criminal records has technically been permitted since 2010, but many state and land-related restrictions have prevented tribes from utilizing them.
According to the Department of Justice, the Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information will allow participating tribes to submit criminal records as well as access the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Service.
“This innovative program will allow an unprecedented sharing of critical information between tribal, state and federal governments, information that could help solve a crime or even save someone’s life,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates in a press release from the Department of Justice.
But the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina — one of the 10 chosen for TAP — have had an easier time accessing records than most because of a favorable relationship with the state government, said Justin Eason, assistant tribal prosecutor for the Cherokee.
“Prior to (TAP), tribal prosecution had been working with the state government to allow the tribe access to NCIC," he said. "For the Eastern Band this streamlines the ability to bring us into compliance with the Department of Justice and TAP.”
Eason said the Eastern Band of Cherokee was chosen to help pilot this program because of its history of compliance with the State Bureau of Investigation.
“That’s a testament to the advanced nature of the tribal justice system,” he said. “We have a very advanced one compared to other tribes in the country.”
Before this program, he said it was difficult — if not entirely impossible — for most tribes to access any sort of criminal record or perform background checks before hiring individuals for “sensitive jobs.”