June 11, 2010
Two weeks ago, Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reform passed the House thanks to the tireless efforts of the Commonwealth CORI Coalition (CCC), an alliance of over 90 organizations working to end limitations on public housing, loans and employment for people with a CORI.
The reforms also received broad support from law enforcement agencies and Governor Patrick, who said in 2008, "CORI was never intended to turn every offense into a life sentence."
Passing these reforms means reduced crime, increased revenue and a second chance for many people. State spending on prison, probation and parole has been increasing while repeat offenses have also been rising. CORI reform is a departure from the "tough on crime" attitude to a "smart on crime" attitude. In both the House and Senate version of the bills (the Senate passed a reform bill in November), CORIs will now be sealed after five years for misdemeanors and after 10 years for felonies, reduced from 10 and 15 years respectively.
In addition, job applications are barred from requiring information about a person’s criminal record. As a result, qualified job applicants will get the chance to join the work force without being dismissed solely because of their past convictions. Giving people another chance at employment prevents future relapse into crime, increases state revenue and builds stronger families and neighborhoods.
In Massachusetts, anyone charged with a crime receives a CORI, even if courts determine that they are not guilty or the charges are dropped. CORI was created in the 1970s with the intention of protecting public safety. To do this, CORIs were made visible to any organization that dealt with children, the elderly and the disabled. Furthermore, any organization could apply for special permission to see a CORI if it was in the interest of public safety.
Although reformed, the CORI system has not lost its original goal of protecting public safety. The new figure for number of years before a CORI is sealed is based on research on recidivism probabilities. The House has also maintained that sex offender, murder and manslaughter records are to never be sealed from employers.
Both versions of the bill are now in Conference Committee to be reconciled into a final version before moving on to Governor Patrick for approval. The Boston Workers Alliance is looking for people to help call legislators to make sure the bill reports out before the legislative session ends on July 31. Stay tuned for developments on this campaign!