CORI reform boosted by state senate vote
Howard Manly | 11/25/2009, 6:32 a.m.
Recent state senate passage of CORI reform legislation drew fast and furious reaction throughout the community.
The pending legislation, now awaiting a vote by state representatives in the 2010 session, would make it illegal to include any criminal history questions on applications for employment and housing; would enable criminal records to be sealed after ten years for a felony and five years for a misdemeanor; and cases “continued without a finding” that end without a problem would be defined as non-convictions and not released.
Mayor Thomas Menino has been a long-standing proponent of CORI reform. “I believe that this legislation is about opportunity — no one should receive a life sentence for one mistake,” Menino said in a prepared statement. “This bill will help law enforcement break the cycle of criminal activity by giving those who have served their time a second chance to live their lives independently and free from crime.”
The Criminal Offender Record Information law was enacted in 1972 to consolidate information on criminal offenders and make it easier for law enforcement to access that information. Over the years, state agencies, housing authorities and employers have gained access to the records.
While the intent of making access to the records was to protect employers from unknowingly hiring people with violent pasts or histories of criminal sexual misconduct, the law has effectively denied a whole class of people from employment and housing — even those with no criminal convictions.
The CORI reform coalition — which includes the Massachusetts Alliance to Reform CORI, Jobs with Justice, the Brockton Interfaith Community and the Boston Workers Alliance — wants the state to remove non-convictions from CORI records that are accessible by employers and landlords.
CORI reform activists have staged a long battle. In 2006 and 2007, for instance, activists from across the state marched on the State House, held rallies on Boston Common and lobbied legislators to support legislation then pending. But House Bill 1416 was held in the Joint Committee on the Judiciary by its chairman, state Rep. Eugene L. O’Flaherty, D-Chelsea, who was cool to CORI reform.
In addition to shortening the waiting time for sealing records, the provisions in House Bill 1416 would have sealed records of arrests that did not end in convictions; sealed juvenile records; and created clear procedures for people to appeal mistakes on their records. The bill would also have made it illegal for companies to discriminate against job applicants solely on the basis of having a record.
Under the present system, employers are able to check whether prospective employees have records when they apply for jobs. Many refuse to hire applicants who have arrest records, regardless of whether the applicant was convicted of committing a crime.
Teenagers are particularly hard hit by the law, which effectively bars many people from retail jobs, even for offenses considered minor, such as trespassing.
The recently passed Senate bill, sponsored by state Senator Harriette Chandler (D–Worcester), adopted core elements of overlapping proposals from Governor Deval Patrick, Mayor Menino, and Representative Elizabeth A. Malia (D–Jamaica Plain) as well as from the Commonwealth CORI Coalition.