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Lost opportunity for Boston youth in CORI reform

Jeff Ross

Lost opportunity for Boston youth in CORI reform

The state senate lost a major opportunity to give youth with Criminal Record Offender Information (CORI) system records a second chance. It also lost the chance to relieve our young people from a law that has created a vicious cycle by blocking employment opportunities and access to summer youth programs, and preventing them from reaching their full potential in life.  

The recent passage of CORI reform through the senate should be particularly troublesome to communities of color where young people are disproportionately impacted by CORI issues. The lone state senator who represents that constituency could not make the case, it seems, to reverse the adverse impact on current and future generations. We need to expect and demand more from our representatives.

The new state law does nothing to permit juvenile judges to expunge records and allow youth to put even the most minor infraction behind them. And that has devastating consequences for young workers.

According to the Boston Worker’s Alliance, blacks with CORI records have a 5 percent chance of being called back for an interview and blacks without a CORI have a 14 percent chance of being called back for an interview.

Department of Labor statistics show the highest unemployment rate of youth 16-24 since the Great Depression. As the House version of CORI reform is now pending before the House Ways and Means Committee, there is yet an opportunity to correct this defect in the senate measure.

Because a 2002 Supreme Court decision makes it impossible for a judge to expunge a juvenile CORI record, the electorate must call upon the state legislature to correct this injustice.

The decision found that the current statutory scheme, Chapter 276, § 100B could not be interpreted to allow judges to expunge juvenile court records held by the Department of Probation. The decision adversely impacts and marginalizes an entire segment of our young population and must be corrected.

Under the current system, young people accused of even minor infractions are lumped together with more serious offenders. Judges must have the discretion to expunge juvenile records because the one size fits all rationale is overly broad and patently unfair.

In those cases involving young people where there has not been an adjudication — including cases where there has been a continuance without a finding, a filing, “nolle prosequi,” or innocent verdict — records should be expunged to ensure that young people charged in only minor infractions are not equated with more serious offenders.  

Advocates representing juveniles in court proceedings and lobbying for reform have advanced a model juvenile justice bill. A key provision of the bill permits judges to make a case-by-case decision on whether to purge.

At minimum, the legislature should do the right thing for the youth of Massachusetts and amend the existing statute to allow purging of court records that do not end in an adjudication of delinquency.

Many people don’t realize that Juvenile Court involvement carries many potential intended and unintended long-term consequences related to employment, immigration, getting a driver’s permit and license, and military service, even for relatively minor offenses. Later in life, it impacts the ability to obtain housing and to make a life for a family.

Judges in Juvenile Court must be given the discretion to expunge these records so that youthful transgressions, and false accusations don’t stand in the way of opportunities for young people to turn their lives around.

The status quo of sealing records rather than expunging them is not good enough. The senate just passed a bill protecting adults’ records without a single provision to protect juveniles. The state senate has already lost an important opportunity to act, but there is still time for state representatives to act and it should.

We owe it to future generations of young people to act. Not to act would be a lost opportunity.

Jeff Ross is a practicing Boston attorney and former research associate of A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.