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Background checks

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RALEIGH — State law requires some employers to run background checks on jobapplicants. But, some criminals could be slipping through the cracks,even working at your child's school or day care.

State law requires hundreds of agencies to get background checks of jobapplicants completed through the State Bureau of Investigation. The lawis very specific that only the SBI can make these checks.The problem is that the SBI is now months behind and unable to handle thevolume. It's a delay that could be dangerous.

The SBI's Stan Lewis has his hands full, literally. Stacks of requestsfor criminal background checks are stashed throughoutSBI headquarters.

These stacks of unanswered requests are from hundredsof agencies, including child care providers, nursing homes, adultcare homes, home care agencies. There are also requests for checks to bedone on foster parents, folks wanting concealed handgun permits, and lots more.

1,600 different agencies request background checks from the SBI -- 1,600 and rising.

An antiquated paperwork system is being replaced with computers, but thatwon't happen for at least six months. Meanwhile, the SBI's turnaroundtime for requests has increased from 12 days in 1994 to over 90 days in1997 -- that's 90 days to get one background check finished.

What does that backlog mean? It means in that 90 days, a convictedfelon could be teaching in your child's school, looking after your kids atdaycare, or staffing your grandmother's nursing home.

Tom Harmelink, who directs the Home Healthcare Agency says that the statelaw which requires background checks was short-sighted. He says that theLegislature didn't allow time for the necessary resources to be put intoplace so the SBI could effectively carry out the mandate.

‚The SBI's Stan Lewis says that the problem will get worse before it getsbetter. But, he insists that it will get better later this year.

Lewis recommends that employers do their own local checks. Some havehired independent companies to make the background checks. While they getthe checks back in less than a week, those backgroundchecks are pricey. It's money that most agencies have not budgeted.

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