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Massachusetts Governor Seeks to Reform Criminal Justice

Many critics of the American criminal justice system have cited the so-called revolving door aspect of many correctional facilities as proof that changes are in order. Current restrictions on convicted criminals make earning a living through legitimate channels almost impossible for even the most well-intentioned.

Total Criminal Defense has reported on programs in the United States that have sought to address that problem. Now, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is attempting to make major changes to the way his state deals with those convicted of crimes, according to boston.com.

The Criminal Offender Record Information or “CORI” law currently provides a record of criminal convictions, arrests, probation and penalties for any individual. Sources indicate that the use of CORI has been controversial in the past, since information can be accessed by potential employers, landlords and lenders.

Critics insist that the information is much too widely available.

At the present time, CORI data can be “sealed,” or made inaccessible to all but law enforcement officials, after a given period of time: for felony convictions, 15 years; for misdemeanors, 10.

But, as with many other criminal offender programs, many people believe that CORI has prevented offenders from getting jobs and apartments, perhaps not surprisingly. After all, it seems a natural reaction to prefer a job candidate who has no criminal record to one who does.

During his campaign for governor, Patrick promised to reform CORI-and a recently-presented proposal provides an outline for such reforms.

Patrick reportedly issued an executive order late last week declaring that employers should only check CORI records as the final step in the hiring process. That is, an employer can only research an applicant’s criminal background if he or she has already been judged qualified for the position.

Further, according to sources, an applicant could only be automatically rejected from a position based only on convictions with relevance to the position sought. So, if someone wanted to work at a clothing store but had a theft conviction, that alone could be grounds for not hiring. An assault offense, though, would require a judgment call.

Patrick’s executive orders will take effect immediately, but other parts of his CORI reform plan will need to pass through regular legislative channels, sources report. Included in these proposed reforms are amendments that would shorten the amount of time needed before records can be “sealed:” for felonies, 10 years; for misdemeanors, five.

Exceptions to these shortened periods would include violations of restraining orders (which would still require 10 years to be sealed) and sex offenses (which could never be sealed).

Patrick evidently also hopes to pave the way for easier prosecution of anyone who violates CORI, which many hope will further improve convicts’ chances at making their way in the world legally.

Thomas Menino, mayor of Boston, has apparently called the CORI reform a “much needed” measure to improve the state’s criminal justice system. He allegedly believes that the CORI changes will reduce the number of criminals who more or less end up serving life sentences for minor crimes, since they return to jail so frequently.

Reforming the criminal justice system is no small undertaking. If you’ve been charged with a crime, you can contact a criminal defense lawyer today.


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