Massachusetts CORI Reform Approaches

Recently in Massachusetts, there’s been a lot of discussion and activity surrounding reform of the current CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) law. The law was originally designed to make it much easier for employers and private citizens to obtain information about whether a given person had a criminal record. When the original CORI law was conceived, it was felt by many that too many persons convicted of crimes could too easily hide their criminal past, either following a criminal conviction of a crime with no jail time, or upon release from jail or prison. Hence, the CORI law was passed to make it much easier for persons to learn if someone had a criminal record.

But to many advocates of the present reform effort, a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to a ‘better’ system: Either too many people convicted of relatively “minor” offenses ended up with a CORI record, damaging their chances for employment and many other essential needs, or in the view of the opposing factions, the law was not strong enough to begin with. For some time now, both sides in the debate have squared off, but the issue appears to be coming to a head in the legislature.

As a columnist in the Boston Globe wrote recently, one problem complicating reform efforts, is that different people – especially employers – have different needs for this kind of information. Some need very extensive, detailed information, such as, for example, public safety employers, financial institutions or child-care providers. Other types of employers don’t typically need such extensive, detailed records. So what should any new law require – how “far” should it go in providing information about a person’s criminal past? Law-and-order types want a bill that mandates that each person convicted of any crime at all, must carry a detailed record, accessible to as wide an audience as possible. Other people feel that someone who has been found guilty of a relatively minor offense, should not have to carry a “Scarlet Letter” for that offense, potentially foreclosing a number of opportunities for them in the future.

As a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney, my opinion is that what is needed, as always in important legal issues such as this, is balance. Let’s hope that whatever comes out as a final product in the legislature is as balanced an effort at reform, as possible.