Saturday, January 12, 2008

Governor Patrick Makes First Good Move Toward CORI Reform

Governor Patrick has now decided what to do with CORI reform, as indicated in this press release issued yesterday by the Governor's office. He has filed legislation, which of course has to be acted upon, but has also implemented some changes through executive order. The best article I've seen on this so far is from the Worcester Telegram: CORI Reforms Bill Filed; Changes to Help Ex-Cons Get Jobs, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, by John J. Monahan, January 12, 2008.

The Boston Globe also published yesterday a column by Adrian Walker, who, while praising the Governor for this effort, pointed out both that on the one hand this is a rather timid reform, and on the other, that it may not even be passed by the legislature.

The Walker piece discussed Senator Dianne Wilkerson of Roxbury, who is one of those who believes the reform measure does not go far enough. "She has argued that juvenile records should be inaccessible but aren't," explains Walker. "She also maintained that the proposal does not go to the heart of the issue, which is that people with criminal records have trouble finding work and rebuilding their lives."

And then I think Senator Wilkerson hit the nail on the head when she said, as quoted in the editorial: "I think those people who have difficulty finding work because of CORI are not going to have much relief after the release of the governor's plan, and that to me is the most unfortunate part of it. The only real test is whether last year's no becomes this year's yes."

Although this CORI reform is welcome news, there are some things CORI reform advocates had hoped for, but which are not in the executive order and legislation. The Blue Mass Group Blog has a post and some good accompanying comments on some of the gripes of the reformers, a few of the biggies being that this reform will not clean up the records themselves - records which in many cases contain way too much information, and are inaccurate, inconsistent, and misleading - and also, as indicated by Senator Wilkerson, there is no change in the handling of juvenile records.

It seems the Governor took the cautious approach that the Worcester Telegram advocated some time ago, a cautious approach which I feared and which I spoke out against in this blog.

Too bad. This just means still more reform will be needed later on or else we will continue to live with absurd problems, including more, and unnecessary, government expenses for taxpayers, as we continue to create impossible dilemmas for those lowest on the economic ladder in this state.

Opponents of CORI reform should realize that this reform is about people who are already out of jail. We can't lock everybody up and punish them forever. They are out here. So now what do we want them to do? Enabling these people to get to work, get housing, and otherwise move on with their lives will reduce the rates of recidivism and welfare dependency.

But hats off, Governor Patrick, for having the courage at least to make this very good first step in the right direction. Let's hope our legislature has the decency, intelligence and courage to enact the legislation, and follow up with even stronger reforms later on.

For a good explanation of CORI, see CORI Project - Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Inc., where you can find the "CORI Reader" - a very instructive article on CORI in a pdf file.


"BOSTON— Gov. Deval L. Patrick filed legislation yesterday that would reduce the time the public could view most criminal records — from 15 years to 10 years for felonies and from 10 years to 5 years for misdemeanors — to make it easier for past offenders to get jobs and to reduce prison recidivism.

The changes are among numerous proposed reforms to the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information law laid out by the governor after a year of study.

'CORI was never intended to turn every offense into a life sentence,' the governor said in a statement announcing the initiative. 'All but a handful of people incarcerated are eventually released, and they need to get back to work.'

While the change in the length of time before records are sealed and some other changes would require legislative approval, several changes were implemented by the governor by executive order yesterday.

The legislation also would increase access to sealed criminal records for police and criminal justice agencies, granting them access to all criminal records sealed by the courts, and would impose a new penalty of $5,000 or one year in prison for those convicted of making unauthorized requests, unauthorized use or dissemination of CORI records.

Handling of juvenile records would not change under the legislation.

Meanwhile, the governor directed state agencies to implement several other changes in the handling of criminal records...."

For information and links related to Massachusetts criminal law see the criminal defense page of my law firm website.

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