A criminal record, or "rap sheet" as it is sometimes called, is a document which provides information about someone's history of contacts with law enforcement and the legal system. The type of information in a criminal record can vary, depending on the age of the person in question and the country. Such records are utilized for background checks and a variety of other tasks in which someone's criminal history may be relevant.
A very basic criminal record will just contain a list of the crimes that someone has been convicted of. More detailed records include all arrests and their outcomes along with any crimes which have not been expunged from the record. The criminal record can also note down identifying information, such as height and weight, and other information which may be used descriptively along with the subject's address.
Juvenile criminal records are usually sealed, meaning that they can only be accessed in special situations. It is also possible for adults to seal all or part of their records by request. In other cases, however, a criminal record is public information and anyone can access it by filing a records request and usually paying a small fee to compensate clerks for pulling the record and providing a copy.
When people apply for jobs, they may be asked to undergo a background check which will include a review of their criminal records. For a fee, employers can access a system which provides reports of this nature, or they may opt to hire people to perform background checks. Background checks are especially common for jobs where people will be handling sensitive or valuable material or working with children; teachers, for example, need to successfully pass a background check which checks for any signs which indicate that they might be a risk to students.
Criminal records are technically public records, which means that anyone can access them. Laypeople may find the task of reviewing such records daunting, however. Most people do not have access to the automated systems which collate information and must request records manually from relevant agencies; in the process they may miss aspects of a criminal record which might be important. In recognition of the fact that some people may be concerned about specific risks, some communities have enacted registration requirements for certain types of criminals. Sex offenders, for example, often must register and people can look up their neighborhoods to see if any registered offenders are located in their vicinity.