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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis Labor Coalition: ‘Criminal Records Information System is in need of reform’

Published: November 30, 2007
Section: Features, News

Do the letters CORI mean anything to you? You may already have some idea of what Brandeis’ policies on hiring university workers are based upon the workers you see around you every day, in the dining halls and in your dorm. Brandeis hires its workers from the local Waltham community, and has demonstrated a commitment to a diverse workforce. Brandeis’ hiring policies are more progressive than many other employers in the state, but discrimination based on criminal records is occurring on a large scale in Massachusetts. Recently, many communities across Massachusetts have begun to examine how the criminal justice system can affect fair hiring practices. Many believe that the Criminal Records Information System (CORI) is in need of reform, as it currently is preventing people from attaining jobs they are qualified for and deserve.

Clubs may be familiar with CORI forms as they are currently required for independent contractors, but the implications of doing these background checks may not be fully understood. CORI is a report that lists felonies and misdemeanors alledgedly committed by a potential employee that potential employers receive upon requesting a background check. A CORI report includes not only convictions but also non-convictions, not- guilty findings and dismissed charges. These reports were originally designed for trained law enforcement officials and are therefore technical and difficult for the average person to understand. At the same it has become easier and easier for businesses and institutions to gain access to these reports. Between 1998 and 2005, the number of CORI requests has more than tripled from 400,000 to 1.5 million.

Businesses with access to such information sometimes “red flag” a worker simply because they do not know how to read the report. In a A 2006 survey of 196 Boston area companies over 60% said they would “probably not” or “definitely not” hire an applicant with a criminal record. This means that even dropped charges and not guilty findings are keeping people from being hired.

Good jobs can break the cycle of poverty and imprisonment. Obtaining and maintaining a good job is what enables one to leave the prison system permanently. Discouraging people from earning an honest income perpetuates recidivism, and keeps some people from reforming who would otherwise be able to. The Public Safety Act, a bill currently being debated in the Massachusetts State house would make many positive reforms to the CORI system. This bill would, among other things, require that individuals who make hiring and housing decisions based on CORIs be trained on how to read and understand CORI reports. By making these and other reforms, the Public Safety Act aims to implement a fair hiring process for people who have a CORI.

CORI reform is an issue that affects many communities in Massachusetts, possibly including you or people you know. If you’d like to get involved in any way, you have a lot of options; attending a BLC meeting is a great start (8:00 on Tuesday nights, 3rd floor of the SCC), or simply emailing a member. You can also visit, or call MA Governor Deval Patrick (617-725-4005) and request that he support the Public Safety Act of 2007 (House Bill 1416). Help us end the cycle of imprisonment, violence and joblessness in our communities by supporting CORI reform.