Can a Background Screening Check Predict the Future?

Over the past few decades, there has been a proliferation in the adoption of background screening checks. Consider the case of national police checks. Australia processed about 1,377,344 national police history checks between 1 July to 30 September 2018. That’s approximately 5.5 million criminal history checks for that year. Compare that to just 1 million in 2004. 

While many employers make use of background checks, especially criminal history checks like a police check Australia, one major issue has been the predictive value of such checks? Does a criminal record indicate the person is more likely to commit a crime and does the absence of a criminal record say otherwise?

The True Value of Background Checks

Background checks may be limited since they only consider the ‘criminal history’ of a potential hire. However, they still provide valuable insight for past offenders. In Australia, the recidivism rate within two years is 46.4%. This means that 46.4% of inmates will return to prison within 2 years. With the information at hand, employers can assess the risk of employing an individual before proceeding.

Limitations of Background Checks

Applicants with a criminal history are stigmatized in society and experience difficulty in securing gainful employment. This makes it harder for them to lead new lives. People do change but because of prior convictions, the general assumption is that they will offend again, although this is not always the case.

On the other hand, if an applicant’s police check certificate is clean, it’s assumed he or she will be of good behavior in the future. There’s nothing further from the truth. Several cases abound of persons without prior criminal convictions engaging in heinous crimes. There’s no way an employer can catch that with a background check. 

Dealing With These Limitations

Here are some suggestions on how to enhance the effectiveness of background screening checks:

  • Robust Criminal Checks

The 2016 ABS Census revealed that 33% of Australians are born overseas, with nearly 20% arriving since 2012. For those with criminal records in foreign countries, a national police check might turn up a clean sheet. 

To mitigate this possibility, employers should adopt not only local police checks like a qld police check, but also International Criminal History Checks (ICHCs) for potential employees that spent over 6 continuous months in another country within the past five years. Depending on the relevant risk associated with the role, educational checks, credit card checks, criminal history checks, and so on should also be performed.

  • Routine Police Checks

Many companies perform background screening checks as a one-time thing. The problem with this approach is that people do change, sometimes for the worse. That’s why regular comprehensive background checks (say every few months) are important to help employers manage the risk and compliance of their employees. 


Background screening checks have limited predictive value because the primary focus is on the past. This opens up the possibility that a person without prior criminal records but with high potential to commit a crime in the future will be employed. It also makes it difficult for transformed offenders to get a fresh start at life because of their criminal history. 

While these limitations are inevitable, they can be drastically reduced by adopting comprehensive and routine screening checks, as well as taking a holistic perspective in the evaluation of applicants. 

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