BOSTON – The Legislature this evening passed a crime bill that will give employers easier access to criminal records and help former offenders who have stayed out of trouble to re-enter the workforce. The bill also cracks down on sex offenses, requiring GPS tracking of homeless sex offenders and reducing the time in which such offenders must verify registration data and appear at local police departments from every 45 days to every 30 days.
“This bill takes a responsible approach to targeted reforms that improve public safety and address the costly problems of recidivism and overcrowding,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “It also provides important new tools for employers to access the state’s criminal records system.”
“This compromise legislation strikes a balance to reduce recidivism while remaining tough on violent offenders,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. “This bill will provide new opportunities to those who have paid their debt to society while maintaining a strong focus on public safety.”
Senator Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), the lead sponsor in the Senate, said: “The reforms contained in this bill represent a comprehensive approach to reducing recidivism by criminal offenders and a ‘smart on crime’ approach to our sentencing laws.”
State Representative Byron Rushing is a long time leader for constructive re-entry of ex-offenders into our communities. He praised this Conference Committee Report and said, “The CORI system has long been in need of updating and reform. This update reflects the reality of recidivism by ex-offenders. An individual who has not re-offended within 7 years of release has a less than 1% chance of breaking the law again.
“When persons have been punished and paid their debt to society it is wrong to deny them the opportunity to find work they are qualified to perform and provide for their families. We agree that CORI reports should be useful to employers and fair to ex-offenders. This new law will do that and benefit both.”
The legislation increases access to the criminal offender record information system (CORI), allowing a greater number of individuals, including employers and landlords, to request records. Availability of felony information is reduced from 15 to 10 years after an inmate’s release and 10 to five years for information on misdemeanor convictions.
Information on all convictions for sex offenses, murder and manslaughter remain available for life. Law enforcement also continues to have full access to CORI. Improved accuracy and faster response times are achieved through a new Internet-based system required by the legislation.
Other CORI reforms include:
Allowing individuals to access their own CORI information and providing for a self-audit process at no fee;
Increasing sanctions for the knowing misuse or communication of CORI information;
Creating a new offense for using CORI to commit a crime against an individual or engage in harassment of an individual, punishable by imprisonment in jail or house of correction for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $5,000 or both;
Providing liability protection for employers who use the CORI system if the decision is made within 90 days of obtaining the report and providing law enforcement with increased protections from allegations of improper use of CORI; and
Requiring agencies and employers relying on criminal histories from the CORI system to provide copies to the individual.
The legislation also gives sheriffs statutory authority to move eligible offenders into pre-trial diversion programs which have been operating successfully for years. It also allows house of correction inmates serving mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug-related crimes to be eligible to apply for parole after serving half of their sentence.
This step toward scaling back mandatory minimum sentences for lesser offenders will help reduce the costly problem of jail overcrowding.
The sentencing improvements in the bill will produce short- and long-term savings by reducing costs associated with incarceration. The annual average cost in Massachusetts to supervise a person is $2,500 while the annual average cost to incarcerate is $43,000.
The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.