CORI reform passed; called ‘smart on crime’ bill

Operating under the theory that good jobs and putting people to work here in Chelsea can break the cycle of poverty, depression, and crime in the community, the House passed CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) reform last week.

“This legislation opens new doors for those who have served their punishment while keeping public safety in mind,” said Representative Eugene O’Flaherty, House Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

The CORI law governs what information about a convicted offender may be made available to the public.  In this legislative session– as in the sessions over the past decade– CORI has been a topic of serious public debate over who should have access to CORI records? How much CORI information should employers be permitted to have? Are CORI records accurate? Should portions of an offender’s record be expunged?

“This bill promises to be smart on crime by reducing recidivism and broadening the horizon for those struggling to progress beyond their past,” said House Speaker Robert DeLeo. “By providing new opportunities to those who have paid their debt to society, this bill will help many find opportunities to positively contribute to our society.”

Current law allows CORI reports to be sealed after 15 years for felony convictions and after 10 years for misdemeanors. The bill allows law enforcement agencies access to CORI records, including information that is sealed.

The bill makes it a crime to knowingly disseminate, falsify or request a CORI when unauthorized to do so with an exception for law enforcement officers who seek criminal offender record information in the performance of their official duties.

However, some, like a coalition of Massachusetts District Attorneys argue that it is hard to imagine criminal record information that is not relevant to employment. 

“If a job applicant has a record of violence (domestic or otherwise), drug or alcohol abuse, larceny, or weapons, potential employers should have access to that information in order to make an informed employment decision.  If a candidate’s prior job performance is relevant to a hiring decision, shouldn’t his criminal background be equally relevant?” the coalition asked on their state website.

That also argue that convicted offenders unquestionably have a difficult time obtaining employment, but disclosure of a criminal record is only one of many impediments to employment.  A person with a history of incarceration is going to have significant gaps in his resume, no recent employment history, a dearth of recommendations, and often low skill sets. 

“The District Attorneys recognize the importance of finding decent jobs for convicted offenders, but putting blinders on potential employers by denying them access to CORI information is not the solution,” they said. “The District Attorneys support re-entry planning and employer incentives to hire persons with criminal records.”

However, under this legislation, those convicted of murder would not be eligible to have their records sealed.

Unlike the CORI reform legislation that passed the State Senate this session, the House bill dictates that sex offenses are never eligible to be sealed. The bill also does not include language from the Senate CORI reform bill that would qualify drug offenders for parole after serving two-thirds of a mandatory minimum sentence.

The legislation also creates the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services to replace the Criminal History Systems Board which currently controls access to CORI. Transferring Control to the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services will expand access to CORI for employers while increasing the accuracy of CORI reports.

The Department will be required to maintain CORI in an electronic database, accessible on the internet and configured to allow for the exchange of CORI with other states and federal agencies. The database will specifically list which agencies, departments, commissions, individuals and members of the public can access CORI and the reasoning for their access.

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