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News :: Labor : Organizing : Politics : Race
The Walk to Freedom: The Fight for Criminal Record Reform
by Sofia Jarrin
Email: sofiajt (nospam) yahoo.com
18 May 2008
Modified: 22 May 2008
A coalition of Massachusetts organizations have organized a four-day walk from Worcester to Boston to mobilize for CORI reform, a criminal record checking system that advocates say have kept many workers, mostly people of color, out of jobs. The walk began Sunday in Worcester City Hall and is expected to arrive at Bunker Community College by Thursday around 10:30 am. One of the participating organizations, EPOCA (Ex-prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement), is hoping to mobilize as many members of the community on its way to Boston.
VIDEO: See the kickoff of the march in Worcester: http://worcester.indymedia.org/node/27907
AUDIO: Listen to interview with EPOCA and BWA members (click on article to listen to audio):
The American Civil Liberties Union released a report last week that there is a widespread practice in Massachusetts of locking up youth accused of minor offenses and who pose little or no danger to their communities. The report, entitled "Locking Up Our Children: The Secure Detention of Massachusetts Youth After Arraignment and Before Adjudication," documents the use of detention by state judges as a rehabilitative tool to frighten youth never convicted of wrongdoing.
According to the report, Massachusetts detains a higher percentage of youth pre-trial than 33 other states. The Commonwealth detains 5,000 to 6,000 youth in secure facilities each year, many of whom do not appear to be high-risk. Last year, 78 percent of them were charged with misdemeanors or low-level felonies, and more than 80 percent of them were eventually released back into their communities after spending an average of 25 days in lockup awaiting arraignment.
Additionally, youth of color make up 60 percent of those in detention, even though they comprise only 20 percent of Massachusetts' juvenile population.
CORI, or the criminal offender record information, is a system that local organizations say has if anything contributed to the unnecessary post-imprisonment punishment that is keeping people out of jobs and affecting entire communities with a vicious cycle of poverty and crime. According to the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, CORI is supposed to keep tabs on people with criminal convictions, but in actual practice, the only part of this information which is kept on the “ CORI computer” is court-generated information, which means that CORI reports contain nothing about arrests or whether or when the person was released from jail or prison, paroled or discharged from parole. More detailed CORIs need to be requested directly from criminal justice agencies, effectively, leaving both employers and employees at the mercy of a daunting judicial bureaucracy.
An executive proposal has been placed on the table by the Governor Deval Patrick (CORI Reform Bill #4476) to reduce the number of years an offender will carry a CORI record, but it's being currently held up at the Judiciary Committee level. Advocates have additional concerns, not included on the governor's original proposal, that there is a lack of commitment to guarantee, for example, that non-convictions and juvenile records won't be used to deny a person a job. They also want the number of CORI record years further reduced to 7 for felonies and 3 years for misdemeanors, and to have the criminal record question (”the box”) removed from all job applications.
"Even after the Governor's Executive Order on the CORI, the criminal record system continues to sabotage our communities. Unemployment is high and we are barely hanging on. Help grow the movement for CORI reform. The time for change is now!" said a Boston Workers Alliance press release announcing the Walk for Freedom.
ACLU's report on the exacerbated number of juveniles in detention in the state, plus their fate as they are released from detention, sends a chilling effect on the state of the judicial system in Massachusetts.
"Thousands of youth who are neither flight risks nor dangers to their communities are detained while they await trial. This only exacerbates any existing behavioral problems or educational difficulties and is a significant and wasted expense to taxpayers," said Robin Dahlberg, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Project.
ACLU Report Exposes Unjust Detention Of Youth
Pre-Trial Juvenile Lockup In Massachusetts Disproportionately Impacts Youth Of Color
CORI Marchers Welcomed by State House Rally
Photo: EROC, Foundation Movement
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DOJ issues civil rights report on Worcester jail
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Call to End Racism in MA's Juvenile Justice System
(No verified email address)
20 May 2008
THE AMENDMENT HAS BEEN FILED! We have a great opportunity to make some noise about just data collection and reporting, educate our peoples, and push for this amendment to mandate data collection and reporting!!!
Senator Cynthia Creem will sponsor an amendment to the Senate's budget. Sen. Creem is a Democrat from Brookline/Newton, serves on the Senate Ways and Means Committee and is Chair of the Revenue Committee- so she has some clout.
In this email you will find:
*Top 5 Reasons Why Dats is important to our people
*Tips for calling
*Script for calling/ email
*Contact info for Senators.
Here are the top 5 reasons you can share with your peoples about WHY data collection is important. Data is a tool we must use against the system we already know is destroying our community.
1) For the past decade, youth of color have made up 20% of the youth population but 60% of juveniles locked up! The juvenile justice system prevents us from holding them accountable for why this happens because they keep too much data a secret from the public. . The police are so terrible at reporting on race and ethnicity, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) couldn't figure out how much more often the police arrest youth of color than white youth. Probation refused to talk to the ACLU at all. What are they hiding?! These facts are important tools we need to fight against the system!
2) MA locks up more youth BEFORE their trial than most other states. Most of these youth do not meet the legal standards for detention. We NEED DATA to show young people of color do not commit more crimes or worse crimes, but they are treated worse and punished harder by the system than white youth. White kids are sent home while youth of color are detained unfairly and even illegally. Right now our community does not have access to the data from police and courts that shows how serious these racial disparities really are, because because they want us believing youth of color are automatically guilty, need to "get taught a lesson" or are somehow "safer in jail than on the streets."
3) Being detained before your trial affects your well being, your education, your mental health, your family, your community, and your chances of staying out of jail. Studies prove being in a cage does not rehabilitate or educate our young people. The ACLU had to review hundreds of DYS documents not available to the pubic and interview public officials to get the information that in 2006, 45% of youth detained were charged with MISDEMEANORS. Detaining these young people was a waste of money our state doesn't have, but more importantly a waste of their lives! Why are the people being denied this information? We need data!
4) Most of the data that IS available is unreliable, incomplete, and racist! For instance, some agencies do not identify young people as Latino, but rather "white" if they are light-skinned or "black" if they are dark-skinned. We need laws that make data collection mandatory, fair, and accurate.
5) We the taxpayers of MA are funding a system that refuses to tell us who it's working with and how good of a job it's doing. Right now, our state is using jail to replace treatment and support. It costs $15,000 to detain a young person for 16 days (the average stay) but only $1500 to provide supervision so that young person could remain at home during the court process. We deserve better for our hard-earned money and for our young people. We need the data to expose the failures of the system so we can demand change and improvement.
....Now that we know why data collection is so vital to the movement, we need to make calls to convince Senators it's smart policy!
Tips for calling:
-Check out the script and make it your own so you feel comfortable. Add whatever think is important, but remember to keep it brief.
-Remember you'll probably be talking to an aide or secretary who will be taking notes.
-Email is great too! Both is best!
Hello my name is _______ and I'm from (neighborhood or community). I'm calling because I would like the Senator to support the amendment to the budget filed by Senator Creem. The amendment would require all parts of our juvenile justice system to collect and report BASIC demographic and offense data to the public. The data we are asking for is race, ethnicity, gender, offense, and home zipcode. All the agencies already have this data, so the amendment won't cost the state any additional money. Without this data, we are spending millions on a system without knowing how it's working or if it's treating young people fairly. Thank you for supporting the amendment to the budget.
...Here's who to call
A list of ALL State Senators and their contact information:
Suffolk County/Boston State Senators:
John.Hart (at) state.ma.us
Dianne.Wilkerson (at) state.ma.us
Anthony.Petruccelli (at) state.ma.us
Steven.Tolman (at) state.ma.us
Marian.Walsh (at) state.ma.us
Please feel free to spread this information as widely as possible. If you need support or have questions, please call or email me. Thank you for participating, thank you for your energy, and thanks for working together!!
Much much love...
Knowledge is power, all power to the people!
Photos of CORI march in Boston
by Aaron Tanaka
(No verified email address)
23 May 2008
Click on image for a larger version
Click on image for a larger version
Click on image for a larger version
Photos by Aaron Tanaka.