Posts Tagged: CORI

Focus Needed on Entire Criminal Justice System

When the next legislative session begins on January 2nd, you can expect to see us working on proposals that are not necessarily flashy but which are designed to address flaws in existing Massachusetts laws. For example, we will refile bills regarding the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act, the Forensic Sciences Advisory Board, and an update of certain banking laws. Our ongoing public policy agenda also focuses on continuing to work on improving our justice system as a whole. In this context, criminal justice issues become salient. As a big picture thinker, the BBA likes to tackle issues holistically.

Say the word “holistic” and healthcare springs to mind. But many of the same principles apply across disciplines.  In the medical world, a holistic approach means considering all elements of a patient’s health: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.  Patients actively participate in their own medical care by taking preventative measures. Long gone are the days when a doctor would simply prescribe a patient medication or perform an operation hoping to cure an ailment. Now, doctors and patients work collaboratively to determine the best course of action and to make healthy life choices that promote overall good health.

A similar approach should be applied to the criminal justice system. As with health, it is dangerous to ignore indicators that the system is not living up to its potential.  When something does go seriously wrong, it can take something akin to radical surgery to fix. This could mean more financial resources, more oversight, an investigation, or some other type of reform.

The justice system is complex.  It’s made up of interconnected yet individual departments, agencies, and branches.  Problems in one area will almost always have ramifications on other parts of the system. The BBA takes a holistic approach to criminal justice because success isn’t measured just by securing more resources or the passage of a single piece of legislation.  Success should also be measured by reducing our recidivism rates, improving public safety and reintegrating individuals into society.

The BBA works to identify areas for improvement that would contribute to the overall wellness of the entire system.  Over the years, the BBA’s reports and recommendations have covered a wide array of topics such as the Report of the BBA Task Force on Children in Need of Services, the Report of the Task Force on Parole and Community Reintegration, and Getting it Right: Improving the Accuracy and Reliability of the Criminal Justice System in Massachusetts.

Additionally, the BBA actively works with several outside groups tasked with identifying problems while recommending measures that would provide more efficiency to the justice system.  We have a BBA member on the Massachusetts Civil Infractions Commission – a group charged with recommending permanent changes designed to reduce the number of lesser criminal cases in which public counsel would be required.  We also have a member on the Criminal Justice Commission – a group commissioned to study and make recommendations on the entire criminal justice system in Massachusetts.

But there’s more to be done. Building on the successes over the last four years in the area of CORI reform and sentencing reform, the BBA will continue to work towards eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders.

The criminal justice system should function in a way that does more than just punish those who break the law. Improving public safety needs to mean more than just incarcerating people. Moving away from a philosophy of being “tough on crime” to one of being “smart on crime” requires taking a good look at the underlying problems that contribute to criminal behavior.  There needs to be a change to the culture of crime and punishment.  Fair and appropriate punishment is important, but real rehabilitation and reintegration into our society is going to be what it takes to break the cycle of recidivism.  To be “smart on crime” we need a comprehensive – and holistic – approach to improving the overall criminal justice system.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association

Second Wave of CORI Reforms Takes Effect May 4

The second phase of the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reform is set to go into effect on May 4th – the first phase took effect on November 4, 2010.  In advance of the second phase’s implementation, Issue Spot is providing a quick backgrounder on the new law and an overview of the changes you should expect.

As you may know, CORI records are any record or data compiled by a Massachusetts criminal justice agency about an individual relating to a criminal charge, arrest, pre-trial hearing, other judicial proceeding, sentencing, incarceration, rehabilitation or release (it does not include juvenile criminal history, except for youthful offender charges).  CORI records are managed by the Department of Criminal Justice Information Systems (DCJIS) which provides a system for sharing information between the Massachusetts criminal justice and law enforcement community.

In 2007, the Boston Bar Association released a Statement of Principles on CORI (alluded to in our 2009 testimony) identifying four areas needing immediate reforms: the accuracy of CORI records; clarification as to who has access to CORI records; sealing of CORI records; and CORI matters unique to juveniles.  The BBA worked closely with lawmakers and other advocates to pass legislation that would improve the accuracy, access and sealing of CORI records.  Our collective efforts were rewarded in August 2010 when Governor Patrick signed the CORI reform bill into law.

Phase 1

Since November 2010, employers have not been able to ask prospective applicants to check off boxes on employment applications that reveal information about their criminal history.  Known as the “ban the box” provision, it forces employers to judge employment applications on the merits on initial application forms.  There are important exceptions to this, including employment where federal or state law disqualifies applicants with a conviction of certain types of criminal offenses.

Employers can only consider criminal history later in the hiring process.  This gives all applicants an opportunity to make it through a preliminary screening process and increases the odds of being hired.  Ex-offenders who have steady, gainful employment are less likely to recidivate, which lowers dependence on valuable state resources and increases public safety.

Phase 2

On May 4th several other reforms will take effect.  A few key terms to understand with regard to the CORI reforms include:

  • Standard Access – access to information on any criminal charges pending as of the date of the request; felony or misdemeanor convictions; convictions that have not been sealed; and any murder, manslaughter, and sex offenses.
  • Required Access – employers who must comply with statutory, regulatory, or accreditation requirements regarding employees’ criminal records; and employers under federal or state law authorizing or requiring them to conduct CORI checks such as schools, camps, day care centers, and nursing homes.
  • Open CORI – information including misdemeanor conviction with one year of conviction or release from incarceration; felony convictions within two years of conviction or release from incarceration; all felony convictions punishable by five or more years of incarceration; and all murder, manslaughter and sex offense convictions.

The major reforms set to take effect on May 4thinclude:

  • All employers and landlords will have Standard Access to CORI
  • The public will have Limited Access to Open CORI
  • Certain employers will have Required CORI Access
    • Hospitals and banks
    • Schools and day care centers
    • Nursing homes and assisted living facilities
  • iCori
    • A pay-for, secure, web-based system from the DCJIS.
    • To receive CORI access, landlords and employers will be required to register annually for an iCORI account.
    • Individuals will be able to use iCORI to request their own personal CORI’s from DCJIS.
    • The public will be able to use iCORI to request Open CORI from DCJIS.
  • Sealing Conviction changes
    • Misdemeanors will be sealed 5 years after conclusion of sentence and/or supervision.
    • Felonies will be sealed 10 years after conclusion of sentence and/or supervision.
    • Sealing is administrative – no court appearance necessary.
    • Restraining order violation convictions treated as felonies.
    • Sex offenses fall into their own category.

For more detailed information, check out DCJIS’ website or fact sheet.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association

CORI Reform Is Just a Start — Sentencing Reform Is a Must

The BBA retains a spirit of dogged optimism as we wait for sentencing reform.  With just three months left in this two year legislative session and the Senate preparing to release their budget in less than two weeks, the legislature is moving closer to meaningful sentencing reform.  There have been years of protests, legislative proposals and public hearings.  But the sad truth is that the current system makes it extremely difficult for former offenders to straighten out their lives.

Publicly the Governor, Senate President and House Speaker have all expressed their support for some sort of Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) reform.  The Senate did so most recently in December with the passage of a CORI bill that also included sentencing law changes for non-violent drug offenders.  The word is that the House will act within the next two weeks.  Let’s hope that their proposal doesn’t stop at CORI reform and includes meaningful sentencing reform.

For more than 20 years the BBA has been studying and advocating on these issues and strongly believes that it’s time to finally make these measured changes a reality.  We have sponsored and encouraged thoughtful study of our criminal justice system recommending changes — including repeal of most mandatory sentencing laws.

In the present fiscal crisis, their adoption would have significantly positive economic and social impacts.  A combination of CORI and sentencing reform, plus post-release supervision, would accomplish cost-effective changes in our criminal justice system that enhance public safety, and facilitate offender re-entry and employment, while saving judicial and correctional resources for the most serious offenders.

Employers often use CORI reports to help screen out prospective job applicants. On one side of the debate are supporters of the current CORI law who say access is needed to protect employers from hiring someone who might be a liability to their business. On the other side of the debate are the critics who contend that the widespread use of CORI reports often prevent ex-convicts from starting over and that an individual who has already paid his or her debt to society should be given a second chance and would be less likely to re-offend if they did not have to overcome barriers to employment, housing and other services.

The CORI law was created to control the release of information concerning an individual’s prior criminal history.  Initially limited to law enforcement officials, the law has been expanded to provide access to other organizations, particularly those that service children, the elderly and the disabled.  Maintaining accurate CORI information is important, as these reports can include not only an individual’s prior convictions, but also any pending charges as well as cases that ended without a conviction. This can include cases where the individual was found not guilty, or the charges were dismissed.  We need to find the balance between access and disclosure.

Ex-offenders, including those who have successfully completed a term of imprisonment, must be encouraged to obtain and retain productive employment.  Employed ex-offenders are able to support and house themselves, rather than remain an economic burden to the Commonwealth.  Right now, those with minor or long dormant criminal records confront complicated hurdles due to the way CORI records are handled when the ex-offenders seek employment or housing.  The current system is confusing and complicated and some employers have access to criminal information while others don’t.

There seems to be support for some sort of CORI reform throughout the legislature. But CORI reform and sentencing reform must be viewed as interconnected parts of the solution.  CORI reform is not going to be as effective if inmates serve lengthy sentences that preclude access to re-entry opportunities.  Parole and work release eligibility for drug offenders would help transform appropriate candidates from expensive correctional burdens to contributing members of society.

Sensible sentencing reform must include post-release supervision, and a system of presumptive post-release supervision for all offenders incarcerated in state prison. It’s intelligent and fiscally responsible and would avoid the current practice in which offenders often are released directly to the community after serving the maximum term of their sentence, without any transitional period.

The Commonwealth is now experiencing the most severe fiscal crisis in decades and this provides us with an opportunity to enact responsible sentencing and CORI reform.  Simply put, every offender who makes a successful return to the community as a result of these measures will be one less financial burden to the taxpayers of this state, and our communities will be made safer in the process.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association