For the last eight years, Beau Tiffany would open letter after letter and email after email from human resources departments around Wisconsin and wonders why he could not find a decent job. He has a college degree in marketing and communications, solid references, and spent countless hours polishing up his resume.
Yet, application after application was rejected. It took its toll on his psyche.
"This beats a man down, you know, especially after eight years," Tiffany said. "There's something called learned helplessness. It's a psychology concept I learned in college. If you keep going through the same stuff, pretty soon you start to think, maybe it's just me. Maybe I can't do any better. Maybe I don't have the skillsets that they're looking for or something like that."
He had two run-ins with police related to marijuana possession in the 1990s and disclosed those to all potential employers.
Tiffany knows marijuana is against the law, but couldn't believe that could keep him from a job to help cover his bills.
"I got a call (from a potential employer) and was told, 'Hey, we found something in your background record check that you didn't disclose in your application,'" he said.
Tiffany's last marijuana arrest was entered into Wisconsin's criminal history database as an arrest for the manufacture and delivery of PCP. The mistake had been there more than eight years.
"Background checks are such an everyday part of life when you're looking for a job," he said. "We live in a digital age and you want to make sure you have a good employee. Having a drug dealer (charge) on your record, I wouldn't want to hire that."
The state Department of Justice, which oversees the criminal history database, refused to comment on what happened in Tiffany's case. Records provided by the Dane County Sheriff's Department show Tiffany's arresting officer filled out the paperwork accurately before sending it to the state where it was entered by hand into the database in 2005. Since then, the state and all of Wisconsin's counties have matching computer interfaces, allowing the local arresting agency to input the data into the database.
Mistakes like Tiffany's are not uncommon, according to DOJ Communications Director Dana Brueck. In an email, she wrote, "I’m told it isn’t an unusual request either to make slight changes or to make corrections (to individuals' criminal histories). Requests vary."
Each year, that database is accessed more than 600,000 times by employers, police and the public.
Tiffany received an official correction on his record in the database, but he wonders what might have been if the mistake had not been there in the first place.
"I hope that 10 years from now I can look back and say, 'Look at the growth I've made. Look at the progress I've made in my personal life and in my career,’" he said. "Because right now, I don’t have a career."
If you are interested in checking your own criminal history, it costs $7 on the state's website.