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News :: Human Rights : Labor : Organizing : Race
Hundreds Testify for Reform to the Criminal Records System in Massachusetts
26 Sep 2007
On Tuesday, September 18th, over 600 people descended on the State House in support of the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI)reform proposal, The Public Safety Act of 2007 (House Bill 1416).

AUDIO REPORT: Listen to an interview with Aaron and Maggie from the Boston Workers Alliance on "What's Left", WMBR 88.1 FM. Click on "Read the full article" for more.
As a whole, the vast majority of testifiers came out in support of our bill. Of the many CORI reform proposals, Bill #1416 was given the most attention. Mayor Menino testified in support of CORI reform, but did not explicitly mention the bill. Deval Patrick's representative Commissioner Bump announced an interest in forming a Study Commission on the issue of reforms. As CORI reform advocates, we are strongly opposed to another Commission and are calling for Govenor Patrick to deliver on his campaign promises to take strong action on this issue, now.

Additionally, State Representatives Gloria Fox, Willie Mae Allen, Cleon Turner and Benjamin Swan all testified in support of 1416. Councilor Chuck Turner made a strong case in favor or reducing the waiting period to seal CORIs, as did representatives from the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Boston Bar Association. Rep Michael Festa, the lead sponsor of the Public Safety Act brought in speakers from Texas, Illinois and Washington DC to give insight into the CORI reforms that have happened across the country. Sheriff's Cabral and Ash also spoke in favor of broad CORI reforms. However, lawyers from the Massachusetts Business Association spoke against 1416 and argued that employers should have full access to CORI records, including dismissed and not-guilty cases.

Most of the people who came out to support the bill were prevented from entering the actual hearing, as the room quickly filled to capacity. In addition, legislators and politicians were given first priority to testify, leaving community leaders, clergy, and labor leaders waiting for nearly 3 hours before being able to speak. For many, these conditions were frustrating.

However, there was a clear sense of the urgency for CORI reform, and nearly everyone in the room besides Chairman Eugene O'Flaherty acknowledged the need for drastic changes in the very near future. It is clear that direct pressure is needed on Chairman O'Flaherty (representing Chelsea and Charlestown), Mayor Menino (to support 1416 on record) and to Govenor Patrick to adopt the main priorities of our coalition and stand up as a real leader.

BWA members Maggie Brown and Stanely Porter testified on the panel with 16 year old Jalelle Cosgrove of the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project. The three testifiers drew a powerful picture of the depression and hopelessness that arises from preventing so many people from working. Maggie Brown stated simply, "I want to show my children that working and going to school is the civilized thing to do. With the current CORI laws, I am paralyzed from doing so." Jalelle explained that the thousands of youth who were unemployable and out of school created a recipe for violence in the neighborhoods. Additionally, Emma Bradley and Magnolia Turbidui from Worcester's group EPOCA provided strong testimony describing their personal devastation from the CORI laws.

The hard work of thousands of activists across the State have helped propel this politically unpopular issue onto the cusp of becoming a reality. While CORI reform advocates gain strength, the opposition is also beginning to mobilize. The next several months will be critical for unifying the messages of the many pro-reform players and bringing an definitive clamor into the State House to force real change on this issue.

The Public Safety Act aims to:

1) reduce the waiting period to seal a CORI to 3 years for a misdemeanor and 7 years for a felony (it is currently a long 10-15 years),

2) provide anti-discrimination protections by only allowing employers to check a CORI after they have shown interest in hiring the applicant,

3) remove non-conviction, not guilty and dismissed cases from the CORI,

4) allow juveniles to have their CORIs purged by a judge

Thanks to: Union of Minority Neighborhoods, Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement, Neighbor to Neighbor, Criminal Justice Policy Coalition, Mass Jobs With Justice, Partakers, Inc., Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Coalition Against Poverty / Coalition for Social Justice, Community Change, Inc., Mass Organization for Addiction Recovery, SEIU 615, Students for a Democratic Society, Juvenile Justice Partners, Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project, Community Labor United, Dorchester People for Peace, Mass Global Action, City Councilor Chuck Turner.
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