Legislature sends crime bill to Governor

BOSTON – The Legislature last week 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.

“There has been a need for CORI reform for several years, and this bill strikes a prudent balance between public safety and effective re-entry,” said Senator Brian A. Joyce, who is a member of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.

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 Governor is scheduled to sign this bill into law on Friday, August 6th.