Senate Passes Comprehensive Crime Bill

BOSTON – Looking to reduce the recidivism rate, relieve overcrowded prisons and improve access to criminal history records, the Senate on Wednesday passed an omnibus crime package that has support from the law enforcement community.

“Reforming our broken Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) system and sentencing laws will reduce crime and recidivism in our neighborhoods and lower criminal justice costs. As a matter of public safety and as a matter of responsible budget management practices, this bill is sound policy, and I’m proud to have voted for it today,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton). “We often talk, on Beacon Hill, about making government more efficient. This bill we’ve passed today does exactly that.”

In a letter issued before the final vote, Public Safety Secretary Kevin M. Burke wrote: “I firmly believe [this bill] will enhance, rather than jeopardize, public safety by facilitating the appropriate re-entry of ex-offenders into the community.”

Senator Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), lead sponsor of the bill, said: “The reforms contained in this bill represent a comprehensive approach to reducing recidivism by criminal offenders and a ‘smart on crime’ approach to our sentencing laws. I am pleased with the support of my colleagues.”

The legislation places a premium on unprecedented mandatory post-release supervision, as well as electronic monitoring programs, all of which are proven to reduce recidivism.

It gives sheriffs statutory authority to move eligible offenders into day reporting programs which have been operating successfully for years. It also allows inmates serving mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes to qualify for work release after serving two-thirds of their sentence.

Middlesex Sheriff James V. DiPaola said: “I commend the Massachusetts Senate for taking action to balance public safety interests with criminal rehabilitation in a fiscally responsible way. This legislation maintains the appropriate level of toughness and at the same time uses an intellectual approach to rehabilitation of nonviolent offenders.”

The sentencing and supervision improvements will produce short- and long-term savings by reducing costs associated with incarceration. The annual average cost in Massachusetts to supervise a person is $2,500 while the annual average cost to incarcerate is $43,000.

This legislation also increases access to the CORI system, allowing employers and landlords to request records on felony convictions for 10 years after an inmate’s release and on misdemeanor convictions for 5 years after release, as well as all pending charges.

Also, information on all convictions for sex offenses, murder and manslaughter will be available for life. Law enforcement continues to have full access to CORI, and improved accuracy and faster response times are achieved through a new Internet-based system required by the legislation.

Other CORI reforms include:

  • Allowing individuals to access their own CORI information and providing for a self-audit process at no fee;
  • Increasing sanctions for the knowing misuse or communication of CORI information;
  • Creating a new offense for using CORI to commit a crime against an individual or engage in harassment of an individual, punishable by imprisonment in jail or house of correction for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $5,000 or both;
  • Providing liability protection for employers who use the CORI system if the decision is made within 90 days of obtaining the report and providing law enforcement with increased protections from allegations of improper use of CORI; and
  • Requiring agencies and employers relying on criminal histories from the CORI system to provide copies to the individual.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for further action.

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