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Delayed criminal checks are dilemma for schools

JEFFERSON CITY (AP) - January 22, 2005 - A two-month backlog on processing criminal background checks at the Missouri State Highway Patrol has forced school districts across the state to hire teachers and other workers without waiting for the results.

Under a law that kicked in Jan. 1, the checks are required for any school employees that have contact with children, from teachers to cooks to janitors. The employees are required to submit fingerprints, which the patrol sends to the FBI for checks against national criminal records.

The patrol is struggling to keep up with the added workload, though it is hiring more employees and moved to 24-hour-a-day staffing this month to better meet demand.

Education officials say the real crush of applications will come in spring and summer, when districts hire for the next school year, but about 200 checks already have been requested. Because the checks are taking eight to 10 weeks to process, school districts are allowing new employees to start work pending the outcome of those checks.

"We hire them, bring them on and put them to work, contingent on them passing all the background checks, so they’re not just sitting around waiting," said Robert Keyes, a spokesman for the Springfield School District, which has hired about 30 people needing checks since Jan. 1.

Missouri has added numerous new categories of people in need of national criminal background checks in recent years. The state now requires such checks for most school employees, prospective adoptive or foster parents and those applying for concealed-gun permits, for example.

In the past five years, other states also have expanded background check requirements to cover more and more people, said Blake Harrison, a criminal justice policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

His research found that two-thirds of states require criminal background checks of school employees and that a majority of states allow employers to conduct national checks on those who work with children, the elderly and the disabled.

Screening companies say background checks are becoming more common for a host of industries. They attribute the rise to a security concern after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and companies’ efforts to avoid liability for hiring someone inappropriate.

State Education Commissioner Kent King said that for now, schools must be extra cautious in hiring.

"There’s this tremendous influx of background checks from schools and many others," King said. "Schools need to be much more careful in their own investigation before they put people to work."

The $10,000 shoplifting spree

By Madelyn Pennino
Intelligencer Journal

June 02, 2005 - LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - A 20-year-old woman accused of conspiring with three others to steal $10,000 worth of merchandise from the Wal-Mart on Lincoln Highway East pleaded guilty Wednesday to retail theft and criminal conspiracy.

Judge David Ashworth placed Jade Shontay Johnson on probation for two years. She admitted stealing about $2,000 worth of merchandise on her own.

Johnson's alleged co-conspirators - Tabatha Ann Cody, Doreen Eve Cody and Kishon Naomi Mack - all are scheduled to stand trial Monday. Each is charged with retail theft and criminal conspiracy to commit retail theft.

The four women are accused of stealing merchandise from the Wal-Mart at 2034 Lincoln Highway East.

According to East Lampeter Township police, Johnson and the other women stole DVD players, clothes and other merchandise by stuffing them in a cardboard box for a child safety seat.

The alleged thefts were recorded by surveillance cameras and reported by store employees.

Ashworth asked Johnson what she was thinking during the alleged shoplifting spree.

"I wasn't thinking at all," Johnson said.

Police also said Johnson admitted giving stolen merchandise to another suspect so that it could be concealed in a backpack. She also admitted serving as a "lookout" while others stole merchandise.

Johnson, who has no prior criminal record, also was fined $500.

Ashworth told Johnson, who works in the health care industry and is the mother of an 11-month-old son, that she should choose her friends carefully.

"Your failure to think of the consequences of your actions has placed you in a tough situation," Ashworth said. "Do you understand that? Think long and hard about whom you choose to associate with."

The terms of Johnson's probation will be transferred to Philadelphia County so Johnson can continue working at her job there.

Johnson's attorney, Janice Longer, said her client has aspirations of becoming a nurse.

After sentencing Johnson, Ashworth urged her to follow the terms of her probation.

"Make the right decisions," the judge said. "You're not going to make a good mother in prison."


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