Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Alternative to CORI Reform: Let's Just Order Them to Re-Offend

Thanks to John Monahan and the Worcester Telegram and Gazette for an excellent article yesterday about the fact that CORI reform is now unlikely. The CORI reform proposals, introduced and backed by Governor Patrick, and as discussed and strongly supported by me here at this blog,
have run aground in the House Judiciary Committee, and the chances of the law covering criminal records being reformed before the Legislature ends formal sessions for the year in July now seem remote.
The reason? According to the article:
Earlier this week, Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty, D-Boston, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, reported that the bill has run into a lot of “roadblocks” because of the many complicated issues involving reintegration of ex-convicts into communities and the interest of employers to job screen applicants. His comments gave little hope the bill could be acted on soon.

Right. So, in other words, the CORI reform effort, which is in fact the effort to help reintegrate past offenders into society, by giving them a chance to housing and a job, and that is by reducing the extremely overbroad access of employers to information - information about not just convictions, but even about long-ago charges that led to dismissals or acquittals - has been derailed because employers still want that information, and they have the power on Beacon Hill.

This will be great for these employers, as they will continue to be able easily to identify a special kind of underclass, one that they can either avoid hiring altogether or relegate to lower paying, less desirable employment due to its much diminished bargaining power in the labor market.

But the collateral consequences of failure to reform CORI are that taxpayers will have to pay more for social services to make up for the economic deficiencies, and also more for the criminal justice system - including for law enforcement, our overcrowded jails, and the criminal courts and probation departments - as that criminal justice system will continue to be busy, if not busier, as a result.

The big employers blocking change are at the top of the economic ladder. Basically this is just another way in which the most powerful, wealthy interests are asking the majority of us as taxpayers to pay more taxes to cover the collateral damage that inevitably results from a system designed and created more for the benefit of these most powerful, wealthy interests than for anyone else.

I'm not saying individuals are not responsible for their crimes. However, I am a realist, and I believe the evidence is overwhelming that good, sound economic policies reduce crime. The attempt to block CORI reform seems to me to be just another unsound economic policy (and it is assuredly an economic policy as much as it is a criminal policy) and it probably deserves a chapter in the ongoing, unwritten history of Class War.

I have heard fellow criminal defense attorneys complain, often after a judge in a criminal case gives a poor criminal defendant on probation a short period of time to come up with very stiff probation fees, or when a judge sets very onerous conditions on probation, that "the judge just set him up to fail" or even - and this is my personal favorite - that "the judge just ordered him to re-offend."

Sort of a cynical joke among lawyers, maybe, but this is no real joke for those who have been in the world of crime, and now can't get a job or housing because of it. There are certainly criminal defendants on probation who have committed new crimes in order to get the money to pay their probation, court fees, restitution, or other court-related expenses, as they often find it difficult, if not impossible, to find a legitimate job.

And if former criminals, just like those currently on probation, also can't get a legitimate job or housing, they are more likely both to become dependent upon government benefits of one kind or another, and also either to steal, or sell drugs, or commit other crimes, just in order to survive. This is the difficult, cold, hard reality of former criminal offenders.

So I must ask, in that same, lawyerly cynical spirit: Is our legislature, at the behest of employers, going to deny CORI reform and instead "order former criminals to re-offend"?

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

No comments: