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Updates to Massachusetts Criminal Background System Take Effect

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WikiMedia Commons

With a new online criminal background check system launching Monday,  improvements to the Criminal Offender Record Information system, or CORI, come two years after legislation was signed to protect Massachusetts residents who have paid their debt to society.

The new CORI database provides easier access to the public including landlords and employees seeking background information on potential tenants or employees. At the same time the system overhaul will restrict their searches to information on convictions dating back ten years.  

Many groups across the state including unions and those representing low-income populations have been advocating for CORI reform for the past several years. Neighbor 2 Neighbor Massachusetts is one citizen’s rights for advocacy groups with offices across the state that became active in reforming CORI in 2007 as part of the Commonwealth CORI Coalition. Wilmelia Rivera, coordinator for Neighbor 2 Neighbor says that the latest improvements to the system created in 1972 will help many Massachusetts residents resume a normal life.

Rivera also says that by removing old, inaccurate, or nonconvictions from the system, the state is strengthening its labor pool.

The groups do have some concerns over the new laws. Steve O’Neil, of Worcester based EPOCA – the Ex-prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement, says that the law does nothing to regulate private companies who could provide background screening at a cheaper rate than the accessing the state’s new CORI system.

O’Neil said he hoped to communicate to state officials the need to improve the CORI update to regulate the private background checking industry.

The new CORI system does not eliminate records for those convicted of homicide or sex offenses.

Opponents of the new system say that employers have the right to know as much criminal information about potential employees as possible.

State Representative Elizabeth Malia, a primary sponsor of the bill, told WAMC that the reforms are just “one piece of the puzzle” for reforming the criminal justice system in the state. She also expressed the need for more prevention programs to keep those with mental health and addiction problems out of prisons.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.