The hearing began with testimony from Governor Patrick, who highlighted the real needs for reforms. He noted that there are 20,000 people incarcerated in Massachusetts, and that 97 percent of these people will return to their communities at some point.
Patrick argued that the best reentry program was a job, and maintained that the Commonwealth would save millions if we are able to reduce recidivism ($43,000 per prisoner each year). Patrick also touted the importance of reducing the waiting period to seal CORIs. He emphasized that a person’s likelihood of re-offending dramatically declines after six or seven years. His bill would reduce the waiting period to seal a felony from 15 years to 10, and the corresponding period for misdemeanors from 10 years to 5.
Senator Dianne Wilkerson and Representatives Gloria Fox, Willie Mae Allen, Linda Dorcena Forry and Steve D’Amico commended the Governor for taking a good step towards reforms, but argued that he had not gone far enough.
Senator Wilkerson called Patrick’s bill a “CORI Repair” bill rather than real CORI reform. Legislators raised concerns over the lack of juvenile related provisions, the importance of “fair hiring” protections that remove the felony check box from job applications, a need to remove non-convictions and not guilty findings, and the importance of reducing the waiting periods to seal a felony to 7 years and a misdemeanor to 3 years.
The Right Reverend M. Thomas Shaw, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts also testified his support for more significant CORI reforms. He described the several hundred participants in a CORI Prayer Service that he officiated earlier in the day, and detailed the importance of redemption and second chances rather than this debilitating CORI system.
Organizations including CAP/CJS, EPOCA, Neighbor to Neighbor, MARC, CJPC and MLRI gave testimony calling for the favorable reporting of #4476, contingent on a few critical amendments. The hearing lasted from 1 until 7 pm, with the Boston Workers Alliance (BWA) being the very last to testify.
BWA Board Clerk Terri Hinton described her own exclusion from the health care field after successfully completing nine-month training as a nurse assistant, due to her CORI. Hinton called on O’Flaherty and Creedon to report out the bill with reduced waiting periods for sealing as it would directly affect her ability to get a stable job.
BWA staffperson Aaron Tanaka cited CORI sealing laws in other states, including Utah (7 years for most felonies, 3-5 for misdemeanors), Oregon (3 years to seal first felony offenses) and Michigan (5 years to expunge most first felonies).
He also decried the felony “check box” on job forms which leads employers to rule out applicants before reviewing resumes, holding interviews or checking references. Boston, Cambridge, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Los Angles are among the cities which have already removed the criminal records question from their job applications.
The hearing demonstrated sustained momentum and real dedication to uprooting CORI discrimination. At this point, it is unclear if Chairmen Creedon and O’Flaherty plan to report out the CORI bill this year.
Regardless, the CORI reform movement will continue to grow, and constituents across the state will hold these elected officials accountable until real relief is provided to the hundreds of thousands suffering from the CORI.