Yesterday, the Joint Committee on the Judiciary heard several bills related to criminal records reform.
I’ve been a strong supporter of reform for our Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) system for many years, because I think these reforms are urgently needed to improve public safety, boost our economy, and ensure that our system is treating people fairly and in accordance with our basic notions of justice.
I’m proud to be a co-sponsor of House Bill 3523/Senate Bill 1608, An Act to Reform CORI, Restore Economic Opportunity and Improve Public Safety. Here is the testimony I submitted to the committee yesterday, detailing the reasons I support the legislation:
Dear Chairwoman Creem and Chairman O’Flaherty,
I am writing in strong support of House Bill 3523/Senate Bill 1608, An Act to Reform CORI, Restore Economic Opportunity and Improve Public Safety.
Our current Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) system is broken, and every day constituents of ours across the Commonwealth are falling through the cracks. The Legislature has grappled with this issue for many years, but the problem is urgent, and the time to pass meaningful CORI reform is now.
Our current criminal records system is outdated, and needs to be changed to reflect the new ways it is being used. By simplifying the sealing process, ending the dissemination of irrelevant, outdated records, and providing employers with the tools they need to better evaluate the risks and benefits of hiring an individual with a CORI record, we can make the process better for employers, community groups, landlords, and law enforcement, as well as those individuals with a CORI record.
This is an issue I often hear about from my constituents. Just last week, a gentleman called our office looking for help finding a job. He had just finished probation, and was hitting dead end after dead end on the job market. Although he had been interviewed for jobs several times, he would never hear from an employer again after they checked his background. This man was trying hard to get back on his feet and find a job, but the information on his CORI record was blocking him at every turn. It’s difficult in these situations when there is little, as a legislator, you can do to help the individual with a CORI record find work. It is on behalf of these constituents and their families that I write in support of this legislation.
Reforming our CORI system makes sense on three levels: first, as a public safety measure; second as an economic booster, and third (though just as important), as an issue of basic fairness.
Public Safety: Our current CORI system actually makes it more likely that an ex-offender will commit another crime, because of the way it prevents those with CORI records from reintegrating into our system.
The biggest predictor of whether an ex-offender will successfully re-integrate is whether or not they can find adequate housing and employment. We should be encouraging those who have served their time to find a steady job and stay out of trouble, rather than placing additional barriers in their way. This legislation would remove some of these barriers to reintegration and lower recidivism rates in our communities.
Economic: Our current CORI system also poses difficulties for employers looking to hire the best people possible to fill positions. Because CORI reports are difficult to read and often filled with irrelevant or even inaccurate information (such as cases that were dismissed, or incorrectly entered information), employers often end up rejecting candidates who would otherwise be a good fit. Reforming our CORI system will help employers make better-informed decisions, reducing unnecessary barriers to people seeking employment and helping grow our economy.
Fairness: Finally, CORI reform is at its core about fairness – and the many cracks in our current system show the unfairness that many currently face:
o Because the system is based on outdated technology, there are literally hundreds of thousands of records that legally should be sealed but aren’t – and those seeking to have their records sealed face a bureaucratic mess when trying to do so.
o In this country, we believe that people are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. And yet current CORI records often notes on cases that were dismissed, or cases where the defendant was found not guilty. As a result, many people who were never found guilty of a single crime have CORI records that often hurt their chances of finding employment.
o Finally, someone who has paid their debts to society should not be punished forever. It is true that many people with a CORI record have made a serious mistake, and we should never take those crimes lightly. But once someone has served their time, as a society we should try to help them make the best of their second chance and become a productive member of society.
The Legislature has had a proud record this session of reforming our outdated systems, from our transportation system to our ethics and pension systems. I encourage the committee to help us take the next step, in reforming our criminal records system, by reporting H3523/S1608 out favorably.
Thank you for the consideration of my remarks.
Very Truly Yours,
James B. Eldridge
Middlesex and Worcester District