Agreement on crime bill includes CORI reform

By 
Jim O'Sullivan, State House News Service
Jul. 30, 2010

House and Senate negotiators reached a deal late Thursday on legislation restricting the public life of criminal offense records and striking most of the Senate’s efforts to provide reduced sentences for non-violent offenders, according to sources familiar with the compromise.

The Senate backed off its push to make non-violent state prison convicts eligible for parole after serving two-thirds of their sentences, while the House relented in allowing non-violent house of correction inmates parole after two-thirds of their sentences, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The conference committee package, which was not made public because legislative leaders were still reviewing it, is one of several bills Gov. Deval Patrick said he wanted finished before he would consent to allowing a non-resort slot machine facility, a key point of contention in Beacon Hill’s most closely watched debate. A second accord, on legislation regulating wind energy facilities siting, was also headed toward a potential Friday vote.

The crime package adds gun crimes to the existing statute allowing prosecutors to seek dangerousness hearings, allowing them to hold without bail suspects deemed dangerous to the community.

In changing the state’s criminal offense record information (CORI) system, lawmakers hope to make it easier for reformed offenders to find jobs. Most employers could not ask on initial written applications for criminal offense records. Intentional, unlawful dissemination of CORI data could incur fines of $5,000, up from $500.

Long-term care, continuing care, and assisted living facilities would have expanded CORI access for workers, volunteers and providers.

The sources said the House and Senate agreed to compromise language on the sealing of sex offender records, ruling that no sex offense record could be sealed except for level one offenders, who would be eligible for sealing after 15 years.

“CORI reform” has long been a rallying cry on Beacon Hill, sought by advocates as a means of granting reformed criminals increased chances to obtain employment. The bill effectively restricts the duration of access to criminal records, while giving more prospective employers the ability to view those records.

The sources said the panel dropped Senate language providing for mandatory post-release supervision for state prisoners.

The conference committee had taken the unusual step of keeping its meetings open, permitting public access to the parry-and-thrust between chief conferees Sen. Cynthia Creem and Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty. O’Flaherty stated plainly several times that the House side would not agree to reduced sentences because House members feared being viewed as “soft on crime” and suffering for it in November’s elections.