CORI Reform: Helping ex-offenders get jobs is good for the region

Everyone deserves to have a job. But when access to employment is limited for large groups of people in a community with high rates of criminal convictions, it doesn’t only affect those individuals. The impact ends up extending to the economic viability for the entire region as well. Fortunately, Massachusetts has recently made an important move to stop this cycle by reforming our criminal records system, known as CORI.

The Criminal Offender Record Information system, more widely referred to by its acronym, “CORI,” is the system our state uses to collect and share criminal justice information, including past convictions, sex offender status and more. It’s used by schools, landlords, financial institutions making loan decisions, and workplaces to research the criminal records of potential workers, tenants and borrowers. Though CORI is a well-intended program, in practice it has been a broken system and has kept thousands of rehabilitated ex-convicts from re-entering society as productive, law-abiding members.

In 2010, MAPC joined a group of community and faith-based organizations, labor unions, and others to advocate for the reform of the CORI system. The legislation we helped to advocate for passed earlier this month, enacting many important reforms:

  • Felony convictions are now sealed from view by potential lenders, landlords and employers after just 10 years instead of 15, and misdemeanors are sealed after 5 years instead of 10.
  • Job applications can no longer include questions about a person’s criminal record (employers can still ask questions about criminal background during the interview stage). This prevents ex-convicts from being screened out of the initial applicant pool.
  • Anyone may request a free CORI self-report every 90 days.
  • A new state-run online database will manage CORI records going forward.

The last of these provisions came into being last week, as the state released the new web-based system to manage CORI. This change will help employers and others seeking background information to find a clearer record of applicants’ criminal history. This will also help prevent problems that plagued the old system, which sometimes gave inaccurate information, or unnecessary information about non-convictions, or very old convictions.

To be denied access to a job decades after incarceration and rehabilitation is crippling for both ex-convicts and the community they’ve re-entered.

Under the old system, people who served time could still be punished repeatedly for criminal activity deep in their past. To be denied access to a job decades after incarceration and rehabilitation is crippling for both ex-convicts and the community they’ve re-entered.

CORI reform is still smart on crime – there are changes for convicted sex offenders, for example – and it embraces rehabilitation while preventing the kind of ongoing punishment that has hobbled a convict’s ability to contribute to society many years after a debt has been paid and time served.  Long-term joblessness disproportionately affects communities of color and those with lower average incomes to begin with, and people with CORI records are more likely to end up receiving state assistance because of difficulties finding employment – making CORI reform fiscally responsible, in addition to being more equitable.

CORI reform demonstration at the State House
Courtesy of Marilyn Humphries

Looking to 2030, the bulk of the region’s job growth is projected to be in high-skill, high-education fields; but the region’s economy WILL still need some lower-skilled jobs in many sectors. Projections show that up to 22,000 new jobs in our region may not even require even a high school diploma in the future.  And, as baby boomers retire and younger workers in the job market continue to move up the skill ladder, there will be increasing vacancies in entry-level, lower-skilled jobs. To fill these positions, it’s critical to ensure that everyone who wants one of those positions is able to enter the workforce.

MAPC’s MetroFuture plan for the Greater Boston region calls for CORI reform, as well as several other reforms that would help thousands of people to join the labor force. More than 90 percent of the workers who would benefit from CORI reforms have a high school diploma or less in education. These new reforms will reduce disparity of labor force participation by race, ethnicity and education.

Changes to the CORI system will hopefully provide a much-needed solution to the long-term joblessness experienced by so many in our region, and put all of Greater Boston on a more equitable path where every resident has a fair shot at prosperity, self-sufficiency, and a future filled with opportunity.

Jessie Grogan, MAPC Policy Analyst  & Charlie Ticotsky, Government Affairs Coordinator