PATRICK ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCES CORI REFORMS
Initiative Aimed at Strengthening Public Safety and Creating Economic Opportunity
BOSTON - Friday, January 11, 2008 - Continuing his efforts to strengthen public safety and create economic opportunity, Governor Deval Patrick today unveiled a criminal justice initiative that would enhance employment opportunities for rehabilitated individuals with criminal records, helping to reduce recidivism rates and increasing the likelihood of successful reintegration into society.
Stressing the need to reduce recidivism by expanding employment opportunities, Governor Patrick filed legislation to reform existing Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) policy to emphasize the importance and value to all residents of successful reintegration of ex-offenders. He also issued an Executive Order to ensure that the information in criminal records is accurate and understandable so that the best information is available to assist in the decision-making process.
"CORI was never intended to turn every offense into a life sentence," said Governor Patrick. "All but a handful of people incarcerated are eventually released, and they need to get back to work. These reforms require decision-makers to make an individual determination about whether an applicant is rehabilitated, rather than excluding ex-offenders categorically. If we want to reduce crime and help people re-integrate successfully, this is a smarter approach."
Each year, approximately 20,000 inmates return home from incarceration, while 97 percent of all inmates are eventually released from custody. Without proper guidance and support - including access to employment and housing opportunities - 49 percent of offenders recidivate after one year.
Incarcerating an offender costs approximately $43,000 per year. Estimates based on effective re-entry programs operating in Massachusetts suggest that the cost for the last year of incarceration and the first year of release can be cut by two-thirds with better program services. Coupled with mandatory post-release supervision, which the Governor proposed through legislation last April, CORI reform can save taxpayers millions of dollars a year, not only by reducing prison costs but by also reducing the cost of criminal behavior in the Commonwealth's communities, thereby enhancing public safety.
Provisions of the Executive Order and legislation include:
Fairer state employment practices -- The existence of a criminal record too often disqualifies rehabilitated individuals from employment even if they are qualified and competent to do the job. To improve fairness during the hiring process, the Executive Order establishes a policy that a criminal background check can only occur once an applicant has been deemed otherwise qualified for a position and the contents of a criminal record are relevant to the duties and qualifications of the job.
"People will be examined as people," said Public Safety and Security Secretary Kevin M. Burke. "These reforms are critical to improving our re-entry efforts and reducing recidivism."
Enhancing law enforcement access to sealed records -- In addition to expanding employment opportunities, the legislation also strengthens public safety by providing criminal justice agencies with access to all sealed records. Presently, once a criminal record is sealed, law enforcement entities are routinely denied access by the courts. In addition, Governor Patrick has ordered a study to determine the feasibility of providing a 50-state criminal record check for employees of agencies serving vulnerable populations. This would allow agencies to comprehensively determine whether or not a prospective or present employee poses a public safety threat.
Ensuring accuracy of CORI information -- To provide greater guidance and clarity to employers, the Governor's order also requires the Criminal History Systems Board (CHSB), which grants CORI access, to develop an electronic learning system for CORI users, draft regulations to require training and examination as a condition of CORI-certification and enhance auditing of CORI users.
Increasing public education of CORI rights and uses -- To further improve the system, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, the CHSB and the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development are directed to develop an educational campaign to notify the public of their legal rights with respect to criminal records and to inform employers of permissible uses of CORI. The CHSB, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), and the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) will review federal and state laws governing the collection and use of CORI in connection with housing decisions and recommend regulatory changes to mitigate housing placement delays.
Focusing on human services and post-release training -- The Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) is directed to revise its hiring guidelines for human services providers and vendors while the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development (EOLWD) is charged with making recommendations concerning successful pre-release and post-release training programs.
"EOHHS is committed to making sure that we balance the need to give work opportunities to ex-offenders while protecting the individuals and communities served by our agencies," said Secretary JudyAnn Bigby.
"One thing we heard time and time again during the many public meetings on this issue is that employers and job seekers alike will benefit from these reforms: employers have jobs available that they cannot fill and yet many ex-offenders cannot access these employment opportunities because of the significant barriers the current system creates," said Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Suzanne M. Bump. "These reforms will reduce those barriers and will support policies which promote education, re-entry, and job training in a tight labor market. Our economy needs the skills and talent of all our citizens."
Changing timeframes for sealing of records -- Acknowledging studies of recidivism that strongly suggest that rates consistently fall the longer an ex-offender has stayed clear of criminal activity after completing a sentence, the bill changes the timeframes and mechanisms for sealing and distributing criminal records and makes them consistent with the timeframes that exist in courtroom trials and consistent with studies concerning recidivism. Mandatory waits for rehabilitated individuals to seal criminal records would change from 15 to 10 years for felonies and 10 to 5 years for misdemeanors, but only if the individual has stayed clear of criminal activity during that period. Misdemeanor violations of restraining orders would remain in the 10 year category to account for the seriousness of these crimes and their relevance to employers that may serve vulnerable populations. Additionally, sex offenders would never be eligible to seal records.
Penalties for abuse of CORI information - The Governor's legislation also makes it a crime, punishable by a $5,000 fine and/or up to one year in prison, to make any knowing and unauthorized request, collection, use, dissemination, altering or sale of CORI.
Juvenile Records -- Lastly, the administration will continue to enforce the present law concerning the dissemination of juvenile records. "We are especially concerned that young people have every opportunity to get on the right path and stay there. Massachusetts law prohibits the release of juvenile records to all but law enforcement and a select few agencies. We are going to see that that law is enforced," said Governor Patrick.
Those agencies with access to juvenile records include the Department of Youth Services and the Department of Social Services. In addition, operators of youth camps are granted access to juvenile records to conduct background checks of all employees or volunteers prior to employment.
Many of the initiatives in the Executive Order and the legislation mirror recommendations within two Boston Foundation / Crime and Justice Institute studies. "CORI: Balancing Individual Rights and Public Access" was a study conducted in 2005. In 2007, a task force co-chaired by Elizabeth Pattullo and Robert Gittens presented "CORI: Opening Doors of Opportunity".
"I applaud the Governor for balancing the imperatives of public safety and justice with the needs of our economy in his executive order and bill," said Paul S. Grogan, president and CEO of the Boston Foundation. "The Governor is updating CORI policy in measured and practical ways that advance reform. In today's economy, we need all hands on deck, and must create a climate in which people with criminal records who are qualified and rehabilitated can rejoin the workforce."