Got Incarceration Data? Evaluating the Leading Industry Sources

Through its Incarceration, Justice, and Risk Intelligence solutions, the TotalVerify™ data hub from Equifax provides access to real-time, nationwide incarceration data.

This blog was originally published on January 22, 2019. 

Through its Incarceration, Justice, and Risk Intelligence solutions, the TotalVerify™ data hub from Equifax provides access to real-time, nationwide incarceration data.

Although the TotalVerify data hub is the most comprehensive and timely source for this type of information, other sources also offer access to incarceration data, most notably: the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Prisoner Update Processing System (PUPS), the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC), third-party incarceration data aggregators, and the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) Rap Back Service.

Each of these alternative sources provide varying levels of access to certain incarceration data points. The following summarizes the better-known sources: summarizing which sources provide what information, when that information is available, and to whom.

SSA’s Prisoner Update Processing System (PUPS)


The Social Security Act allows the Social Security Administration (SSA) to make incentive payments to state and local correctional facilities that provide inmate data to SSA. These incentive payments were established to encourage the reporting of inmate data that is required by the SSA to suspend Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits to prisoners.

Facilities are eligible to receive the following date-based incentive payment amounts:

  1. $400 for information received within 30 days after the individual’s date of confinement due to conviction for an OASDI beneficiary or confinement for an SSI recipient

  2. $200 for information received after 30 days but within 90 days after the individual’s date of confinement due to conviction for an OASDI beneficiary or confinement for an SSI recipient

PUPS Data Limitations

Federal, state, and local agencies acknowledge that the structure of the PUPS program creates obstacles when trying to leverage the collected data for use beyond the scope of SSA benefit programs, including:

  • Coverage: Most government agencies have found that only a small percentage of jails and prisons participate in the PUPS data-sharing program. This sizable gap in facility coverage leads PUPS data consumers to miss incarceration events from the many facilities that choose not to participate in the PUPS program.

  • Scope: The data sent to SSA by incarceration facilities includes first name, last name, DOB, social security number, and the date of incarceration. The facilities do not provide additional data fields, which law enforcement and other agencies find useful, such as charge codes, photos, associated contacts, previous addresses, expected length of stay, and release date. An inmate’s release date is critically important for law enforcement, and is not available through SSA PUPS.

  • Timeliness: The SSA incentivizes jails and prisons to provide their data at a minimum of every 30 days. Most clients have indicated that PUPS does not actually receive inmate data until 90 – 120 days after an incarceration event.

  • Access: Access to PUPS is restricted because it contains “Personally Identifiable Information” (PII), as defined by the Privacy Act of 1974, information that may be exempt from public release under the Freedom of Information Act, or information that is otherwise protected intellectual property. Government or private entities must apply for an electronic data exchange with SSA.


FBI National Crime Information Center (NCIC)


The National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, is an electronic clearinghouse of crime data that can be tapped into by virtually every U.S. criminal justice agency at any time. It helps criminal justice professionals apprehend fugitives, locate missing persons, recover stolen property, and identify terrorists. In certain cases, employers use NCIC as a background screening tool.

NCIC Data Limitations

The FBI database is not a single database, but a collection of disparate systems organized under the NCIC, including the

FBI Identification Record, National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), and the Interstate Identification Index System or “III” System. The FBI system has significant limitations:

  • Coverage: The NCIC database consists of 21 individual files:

    • Seven property files containing records of stolen articles, boats, guns, license plates, parts, securities, and vehicles.

    • Fourteen persons files, including: Supervised Release; National Sex Offender Registry; Foreign Fugitive; Immigration Violator; Missing Person; Protection Order; Unidentified Person; Protective Interest; Gang; Known or Appropriately Suspected Terrorist; Wanted Person; Identity Theft; Violent Person; and National NICS Denied Transaction

At the end of 2015, NCIC contained 12 million active records across these 21 files. The NCIC records account for only 50 – 55% of all available criminal records.

  • Timeliness: The FBI system relies on criminal justice agencies to enter records into NCIC. If a state or county fails to report arrest records or a court disposition, then that data will not appear in the database. The reliance on agencies to manually report arrest and court records, coupled with the passive collection system, leads to a large number of incomplete and untimely files.

  • Access: The FBI database is restricted for non-government employers. It is permissible only if state or federal law has authorized such In most cases, employers will not have access to the FBI’s database when performing background screens on job applicants.


Incarceration Data Aggregators (“Scrapers”)


Many state and local incarceration facilities post limited offender data to their websites for public access. Third-party data providers utilize data-scraping techniques to collect this data, which they aggregate, repackage, and sell to their clients.

Scraped Data Limitations

Federal, state, and local agencies have reported the following limitations using scraped incarceration data:

  • Coverage: Not all jails and prisons post incarceration data to public websites. This lack of available data leads to deficient coverage of incarceration records in many regions for data scrapers.

  • Scope: Scraped data elements can vary from agency to agency, and information is typically limited only to data fields that are publicly available.

  • Timeliness: Most jails and prisons only update the public incarceration records periodically. This leads to data that is stale or, in many cases, incorrect for users that require real-time booking and release data.

  • Access: Many incarceration facilities are aware that data scrapers are accessing their data. To proactively deter scrapers, some facilities employ anti-scraping techniques that change and move data fields on their websites. These defense mechanisms hamper the ability of scrapers to access data consistently. Scrapers are typically unable to access the data until they update their scraping programs.

FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) Rap Back Service


Through fingerprint identification technology, the FBI offers authorized agencies the ability to continuously monitor two separate populations: 1.) individuals who qualify as individuals who hold “positions of trust” (e.g., teachers, healthcare workers) and 2.) individuals who are under criminal justice supervision or investigation. Those who subscribe submit fingerprints and subscribe to the Rap Back Service (“Rap” stands for “Record of Arrest and Prosecutions,” “Back” is short for “background”) will receive notification of these individuals’ ongoing criminal activity.

Rap Back Limitations

Housing 70 million criminal identities, the NGI is the world’s largest biometric database. The exact coverage area of the system is unknown, though some figures estimate it close to 100% in terms of persons/entities covered. Despite its potential thoroughness, there are several limitations that make it difficult to impossible for most entities to obtain and utilize this data:

  • Access: As noted above, the Rap Back Service is separated into two populations: criminal and non-criminal. Subscriptions to the Criminal Justice Rap Back Service is limited to authorized criminal justice agencies, only. Subscriptions to the Non-Criminal Justice Rap Back Service is limited to government agencies or non-government entities that have been authorized by federal status, federal executive order, or state statute approved by the U.S. Attorney General.

  • Requirements: Beyond the legislative hurdles, Rap Back requires biometric data to enable a watch on an individual. This can be extremely cumbersome for an employer to adopt.

  • Scope:

    • The Non-Criminal Justice Rap Back Service only collects information for those in designated “positions of trust.” Therefore, a subscription would not be useful for any employer outside this scope who wishes to monitor their workforce.

    • The FBI does not typically maintain biometric data for misdemeanor-level cases that do not end in a conviction. Therefore, many criminal actions of interest to agencies and employers would go undetected.


How does the TotalVerify data hub compare?


Our flagship service, VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday), is the nation’s leading automated victim notification solution. We launched VINE in 1994, and over the last 20+ years the service has expanded to cover 48 states. In this time, we have developed data sharing agreements with law enforcement agencies, county jails, and state prisons to provide access to offender data for specific use cases that support the mission of Equifax to power the world with knowledge. Through these data partnerships, we enables its clients to save lives, fight crime, prevent fraud, and manage risk.

Incarceration, Justice, and Risk Intelligence solutions provide access to the most comprehensive, reliable, and timely incarceration data network in the country.


Coverage: Our solutions provide incarceration data for over 2,500 facilities, or over 80% of the nation’s jails and prisons. This equates to over 140 million booking records, with over 1 million additional offender records added each month.

Scope: Our solutions provide access to over 25 and up to 180 inmate data fields, depending on the incarceration facility. Data available for most offender records includes: name, offender ID, DOB, custody status, charge codes, location, booking date, expected release date, photos, previous addresses, phone numbers, aliases, driver’s license, related persons, race, gender, eye color, hair color, height, weight, and scars/marks/tattoos.

Timeliness: The TotalVerify data hub receives offender details from our partner incarceration facilities at least once each hour. For many facilities, booking and release data is updated as frequently as every 15 minutes.