Among Governor Patrick’s top policy goals — and successes — has been his campaign to change the state’s laws on criminal offender record information, known as CORI. As a candidate for Governor in 2006, he criticized the state’s broad CORI disclosure policies as a barrier to integrating ex-offenders back into society. “Moving from jail back into responsible society is a great idea,” he said, “but only if CORI doesn’t defeat your second chance.” He included CORI reform as a policy goal in his first inaugural address. And in 2010, with the determined help of scores of grassroots organizations, he succeeded in passing CORI reform legislation. “The best way to break the cycle of recidivism is to make it possible for people to get a job,” he said, celebrating that legislative success in a press release.
A big part of breaking the cycle of recidivism is giving an ex-offender the opportunity to discuss his or her CORI record with a potential employer in order to demonstrate why a person is nonetheless qualified for a job. To this end, four years ago the Patrick administration adopted regulations requiring potential employers to give job applicants a chance to explain why their CORI record may not be relevant to their possible employment. Maybe the CORI record shows only one offense, maybe that offense was a minor one, maybe the applicant can demonstrate a long employment history or a successful rehabilitation effort. The point of the regulations was that a CORI record should not get to do all the talking, the job applicant should have the opportunity to speak as well.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission expressly endorsed this approach just last month when it updated its guidance to employers on evaluating job applicants with criminal records. Employers who want to be sure they are complying with federal civil rights laws will give job applicants an opportunity to explain those records.
Like the policy in Massachusetts used to do.
Last Friday, the Patrick administration released new CORI regulations, and the new regulations have eliminated the opportunity for ex-offenders to discuss the relevance of their CORI records. The administration took this step despite pleas from more than 100 organizations to maintain the policy, which for the past four years had provided hope that a CORI record would not necessarily defeat a second chance. Those who had urged that this policy be continued rather than abandoned, including many who worked closely with the Governor on prior CORI reform efforts, must be disappointed by this U-turn and mystified to imagine what the administration’s CORI policy is now. There was no press release this time.