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CORI Law: Marked For Life

For ex-offenders, CORI law not working

By Michael Jonas | Boston Globe
September 30, 2007

“Get them jobs,” says activist Horace Small of ex-offenders, “and there will be fewer crimes.”

At a time when residents of high-crime neighborhoods are on edge over the plague of gang and gun violence, Mayor Thomas Menino ventured up to Beacon Hill this month to lobby on behalf of the city’s ne’er-do-wells. The mayor was there to testify at a Judiciary Committee hearing in favor of a bill to limit employer access to criminal records. While some might say Menino
should focus his energies on law-abiders, not lawbreakers, he is driven as much by a concern for the former as the latter.

“There are young people who made a mistake,” says Menino. “I don’t believe it should be a life sentence.”

Reform advocates have complained that the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information law, or CORI, has become just that – preventing those convicted of even minor offenses from being able to turn themselves around and find honest work.

But Menino says the wide access to criminal record information does more than just hold back ex-offenders. “It makes neighborhoods unsafe,” says Menino. “It’s part of our public safety problem, as I see it.”

That’s because nearly everyone locked up by the criminal justice system is eventually let out, some 250 inmates every month from the Suffolk House of Correction alone. And the options open to them can have a big impact on whether they end up back behind bars – and whether a law-abiding citizen becomes a victim in the process.

CORI laws keep them from getting jobs and finding a place to live, says Menino. “After a while, they get frustrated and get angry, and they turn to the world they came from,” he says.

Under the bill Menino supports, access to full CORI reports would be available only to law enforcement agencies and employers that serve children and other vulnerable populations. Other employers would have access to more limited summaries, while all employers seeking information would have to attend a training session on accurate reading of CORI reports, which are notoriously difficult to decipher.

Horace Small, director of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods and a man not unfamiliar with tossing an occasional grenade at politicians, has nothing but praise for the mayor’s willingness to push for changes in the CORI system. “He gets this at the most basic level,” says Small. “From a practical level, from a public safety level: Get them jobs and there will be fewer crimes.”

That basic level involves regular encounters Menino has with young people, sometimes in his City Hall office, but more often in the neighborhoods where they live. At one such session recently in Dorchester’s Uphams Corner, Menino says the CORI issue came up repeatedly.

That plenty of young people not even out of their teens already have criminal records is a depressing thought. That those records could be a barrier to success for even those most determined to get on the right path is an even more grim reality for ex-offenders. But it should be of equal concern to those who share the same neighborhood with them.

“I see a real impact every day that we don’t take action,” says City Councilor Steve Murphy, who cosponsored a 2005 Boston ordinance that lessens the impact of CORI in city hiring.

Menino says a longtime friend of his with a produce business in Newmarket Square makes it a point to hire young people with records, putting into practice the maxim that the best social program is a job. “They’re the best workers he has,” says Menino.

That may not always be the case, and there are plenty of jobs that even CORI reform advocates acknowledge should be off-limits to those with records for serious offenses. But there will also be a price paid if state lawmakers and the Patrick administration don’t figure out the right balance and fix a system that many agree is not working.

Michael Jonas can be reached at jonas@globe.com.

State Capitol Briefs – Thursday, Sept. 27, 2007

State House Nwes Service

John Blodgett, Essex County district attorney and head of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, said there
was agreement with the governor on a need for Criminal Offender Registry Information reform and revising rules on mandatory minimum sentencing. He said the DAs would work with the administration on a high-level task force assigned to develop recommendations for reforming **CORI**.

Basic Principles Needed for CORI Reform

Boston Bar Association

BBA News release FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 18, 2007 Contact: Bonnie Sashin, APR
Communications Director
(617) 778-1902

BOSTON – As the Massachusetts Legislature prepares to convene a hearing on Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reform legislation, the Boston Bar Association today unveiled 12 basic principles covering four categories that meaningful CORI reform demands: Accuracy, Access, Sealing, and Juvenile Justice. The principles were developed by the BBA Study Group on
CORI Reform, chaired by employment attorney Jennifer Catlin Tucker.

“Successful re-entry is a critical component of preventing recidivism,” said BBA President Tony Doniger. “It is no secret that many employers find it easier to hire someone without a smudge on his or her record than to deal with trying to understand CORI,” said BBA President Tony Doniger. “The principles adopted by the BBA provide an important road map for those on all
sides of the issue. Where CORI is concerned, nothing is more dangerous than inertia.”

Boston Bar Association STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES ON CORI

1. *Accuracy*

– A system should be established to improve the accuracy of the CORI that is maintained by the Criminal Systems History Board.

– Research should be conducted to determine whether it is advisable to redesign and simplify the form and content of CORI reports in order to make it easier for non-law enforcement personnel to understand them, and to craft more usable guidelines on the subject.

– A process must be established that enables the correction of erroneous CORI in a timely and effective manner.

2. *Access*

– The Legislature should consider adopting additional criteria with respect to: (i) who may have access to CORI and under what circumstances; (ii) the content of the CORI that should be released; and (iii) permissible use of the CORI in the housing and employment contexts. In formulating these criteria, the Legislature should consider whether to prohibit the making of housing and employment decisions based solely on the fact of CORI without regard to the content, timing, and relevance of the CORI.

– There should be no restriction of access to CORI by law enforcement personnel.

– The Legislature should consider creating a system that enables offenders to present prospective employers with documentation reflecting their satisfactory completion of probation or rehabilitation requirements.

– Those who have access to CORI should also have access to training that enables them to read and interpret CORI accurately.

3. *Sealing*

– The Legislature should consider developing criteria for sealing CORI which more accurately reflects scientific research regarding recidivism rates and which more precisely distinguishes between categories of offenses which warrant the application of discrete sealing criteria.

– The Legislature should consider whether housing authorities and employers should be precluded from denying housing or employment to an individual based solely on the existence of sealed CORI.

4. *Juvenile Justice*

– The CORI system should be revised so that individuals who commit criminal offenses while minors are not prevented from obtaining housing and employment for years after they have completed any probation or other sentencing requirements. The Legislature should consider whether purging or expungement of juvenile records should be permitted under standards to be
applied by the courts (except that, records of criminal activity that caused the individual to be designated as a youthful offender under M.G.L. c. 119, s. 52 would not be eligible for purging).

– Juveniles should be educated about their rights with respect to their CORI records and potential inquiries of prospective employers and housing authorities.

– If prospective employers and housing authorities are permitted to have access to information reflecting an individual’s juvenile CORI, they must receive training on how to read and interpret it.

 

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