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News :: Labor : Organizing : Politics : Race
The Walk to Freedom: The Fight for Criminal Record Reform
18 May 2008
Modified: 09:14:53 PM
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 to 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 as possible on its way to Boston.
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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.
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