Wisconsin Public Records
Background checks involve a review of civil, criminal and financial records appropriate for gathering different types of information for different purposes. It is important to understand the availability of public records in Wisconsin and how to access this information.
Wisconsin Public Records Laws
Public records are made available in the State of Wisconsin through the Wisconsin Public Records Law (Wis. Stats. §§19.31 – 19.39). The law permits citizens access to all public documents related to the conduct of government business in the Wisconsin. This includes public records of any elected official and any employee working on behalf of any governmental body in the state. Access to such records may be made by request (via mail) to the Office of Open Government, Wisconsin Department of Justice in Madison, Wisconsin. No information related to criminal activity of any individual or other records of a non-governmental person is available through a request made through the Wisconsin Public Records Law.
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Wisconsin Criminal Records, Arrest Records and Background Checks
Criminal records, including arrest records and those records generally available for the purpose of an employee background check are available through the Wisconsin Department of Justice. A request for information concerning the criminal history of a person arrested, charged and adjudicated in Wisconsin must be made to the Criminal Records Unit of the Wisconsin Department of Justice. The unit maintains 1.3 million records, which have been received from law enforcement agencies, district attorney offices, clerks of court and municipal courts throughout the State of Wisconsin.
Background checks that an employer performs that require the use of a fingerprint card may be submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Justice Crime Information Bureau (CIB). The CIB is responsible for the maintenance of criminal history information submitted by local law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin. A completed Criminal History Challenge Form along with a full set of fingerprints are required to determine the existence of a criminal history for a person residing in the state. If no matching fingerprint cards have been submitted by law enforcement, no matching criminal history will be made available to a requester.
Wisconsin Jail and Inmate Records
Information concerning inmates within the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) can be found by accessing the Offender Locator portal. This portal allows access to information regarding the inmate status of any individual throughout the system. Access to the portal requires the entering of, at a minimum, the last name of the offender.
The system will return a search result matching that data point, with the following additional fields: first name, year of birth, race, county where the disposition of the person’s criminal case occurred (or where incarcerated), zip code and current status. The status of the individual is denoted as incarcerated (inc) or under active community supervision (acs). Information concerning a Wisconsin offender’s status may also be accessed via vinelink.com.
Wisconsin Court Records
Any public records of the Wisconsin Circuit Courts regarding a criminal defendant can be accessed online through the Wisconsin Court System Circuit Court Access portal. The availability of records depends on the county in which the court case was handled, as access to the system, as well as back loading of older cases varied from county to county. Certain confidential records may bit be accessible through the portal, such as those involving adoptions, juvenile delinquency, child protection, termination of parental rights, guardianship, and civil commitments.
Wisconsin Vital Records
Vital records such as birth, death, domestic partnership, marriage and divorce for Wisconsin residents may be found by accessing the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Vital Records Service. A search for any such records may not be performed without a written application and fee (based on the type of search requested). The dates available for a requested vital record depends on the information provided by a local county’s vital records office.