Thursday, October 25, 2007

CORI Reform Urged By Worcester Telegram, But Caution Urged

LINK to Worcester Telegram Editorial: CORI reform
Tuesday, October 23, 2007 "CORI reform: Fix it, but not at the expense of public safety"

"Gov. Deval L. Patrick has called upon the Legislature to reform the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information Act this year. Any changes should be approached with caution. Mr. Patrick has not filed new legislation. Instead, he is urging lawmakers to work out a compromise from among the 30 or so CORI bills already filed. Many of the proposals stem from a campaign by advocates and former offenders who argue that the 35-year-old CORI is an impediment to rehabilitation. Many employers refuse to hire anyone with a criminal record, they say, even if it includes not-guilty findings and dismissals....."

The Worcester Telegram gets it almost right here, except that they wrongly state that CORI is already all public information (it is not), and they are too apparently eager to err on the side of "caution." We need CORI reform, both for the sake of reformed criminal offenders who need to work so as not to return to crime, and for the sake of those with restraining orders on their record, many of which were brought by ex-partners in divorce or other domestic disputes, and many of which were both fraudulently brought, just to get them out of the home and/or to gain an advantage in their divorce case, and too easily obtained, whether or not there was any real abuse. Employers should not have such easy access to this information, which can lead to other kinds of problems even if it doesn't always prevent candidates for jobs from being unfairly disqualified. And of course this information certainly does lead candidates to be unfairly, and foolishly, disqualified for jobs, jobs that can be used to keep them out of the criminal and welfare systems, and that can be used to pay for things like child support.

Past criminal offenders should be allowed to work again so that they don't slip back into a life of crime. Also those who have been accused of domestic abuse should be allowed to work again, and should not be prejudiced by the disclosure of the information on their CORI. Many of those with restraining orders on their record have indeed been guilty of domestic abuse, but most have changed and have had these restraining orders vacated. Many others never committed any abuse in the first place, but were themselves the victims of partners who manipulated the court system. The Telegram urges caution in CORI reform. Ironically, the judges are cautious in another sense. The judges in the district courts and family courts regularly err on the side of caution and issue restraining orders to many who have not truly reached the legal standard that is supposed to be required, lest their wonderful judicial names appear in the Telegram or other media along with the unsavory news that they refused to issue a restraining order and something bad happened (like a real abuser actually hurt a real victim).

And if these defendants, when they land in court to answer to these requests for restraining orders against them, happen to be too poor to hire a lawyer, they are not given a court-appointed lawyer, to protect them from having their children taken away and from being thrown out of their home. They will, however, be assigned a court-appointed lawyer to help them with the simple assault charge just brought against them, even though that assault charge is very unlikely actually to lead to any jail sentence or make them suffer any great punishment. (Gideon's Trumpet doesn't sound loudly enough for these folks. A lawyer is constitutionally required for indigents facing the mere possibility of temporary jail time for a crime, but not, at least according to the current prevailing opinion, for indigents facing the immediate temporary loss of their home and their children in a restraining order case.) Furthermore, even if the restraining order is very soon vacated, and indeed even if it is done so at the request of the complaining witness, the record of the issuance of this restraining order will stay on their criminal record to haunt them.

CORI reform is long overdue. Judges will always be cautious and will give out restraining orders even when these judges are not really convinced there is an imminent threat of serious bodily harm, or other abuse, as defined by the M.G.L. Ch. 209A statute (restraining order law). But we should be at least as cautious (and here I do not mean in the judicially cowardly way, but in the practical, reasonable way) in giving away this information so freely to employers, and in making more and more of such information public, regardless of the consequences.

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