Boston Globe Alert - Governor's CORI Proposal TODAY!
Dear CORI Reform Supporters,
The Governor's CORI Proposal is being released today. The proposal is a start, but there are still some major reservations that we have. It is an exciting day, but we have a lot of work ahead of us. Please stay tuned for our response to the proposal and our call for next action steps.
Thank you, Aaron - Boston Workers Alliance
Breaking bars to jobs
By Adrian Walker Globe Columnist / January 11, 2008
Governor Deval Patrick is about to address one of his major campaign promises, and there will be no shortage of strong reaction.
Today, Patrick will unveil his plan to overhaul the state's Criminal Offender Record Information law, better known as CORI. The administration has mapped out its approach largely behind closed doors.
Patrick's proposal was outlined by Public Safety Secretary Kevin Burke in an interview yesterday. An executive order will instruct state agencies to consider criminal history only as the last step in the hiring process, as opposed to blanket policies barring hiring offenders. In addition, applicants would be automatically rejected only if their criminal history had direct bearing on the job involved.
"If someone was being hired as a bookkeeper and had a conviction for larceny, that would be relevant," Burke explained. "If someone was being hired for an [information technology] job and had a conviction for assault and battery, you would make a judgment."
Other parts of the plan will require legislative approval. The legislation, also being filed today, would shorten the time records are sealed. Currently, records are sealed for 15 years for a misdemeanor and 20 years for a felony; in Patrick's proposal, those figures would become 5 years and 10 years, respectively.
CORI was a contentious issue during Patrick's campaign for governor. Advocates of changing the law, who were among his earliest supporters, have argued for years that criminal histories unfairly restrict opportunities to secure jobs and housing. They say so many organizations and companies have access to the records that the intended protections have lost their meaning. Defenders of the current law say employers deserve to know whom they are hiring.
Advocates of change seemed unsure how to react. "We're trying to decipher it to see if it really does what we want it to do, to determine if this is something that is really going to help people," said Horace Small of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods.
Senator Dianne Wilkerson of Roxbury said she does not believe the proposal goes nearly far enough. She has argued that juvenile records should be inaccessible but aren't. 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.
"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," she said. "The only real test is whether last year's no becomes this year's yes."
Catherine Hennessey is one of the people who has known firsthand the difficulties of navigating the job market after prison. She served a six-month sentence in 1989 for drug possession and conspiracy. She began working nine years ago for the Cambridge Health Alliance, as a temporary worker in the physical therapy department. But she wasn't hired permanently until four months ago, because the agency, like many health care agencies, had a policy of not hiring ex-convicts.
"It's just not fair to have a lifetime ban in an industry that has so many opportunities," she said yesterday. "When people are trying to rehabilitate themselves, they have no options."
In truth, the proposed measures are a bit timid, especially given Patrick's often-stated commitment to the cause. But it is certainly a step in the right direction.
Not everyone will think so. But it makes no sense to shut convicts out of the job market. The founding idea behind CORI was to allow convicts to lead productive lives after prison. But over several decades it has come to have the opposite effect, partly because the law is so porous.
How the proposed legislation will fare in election year, in a Legislature with plenty on its plate already, is anyone's guess. Its fate will stand as a test of whether Patrick's ability to govern can catch up to the soaring rhetoric that made him governor in the first place.
Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source URL: http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2008/01/11/breaking_bars_to_jobs/.
Boston Workers Alliance
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