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Report Looks at Massachusetts Criminal Background Reform

The report, titled “The Continuing Challenge of CORI Reform”, sponsored by the Boston Foundation and the Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice, aimed to gauge if a key provision in recent reforms to the Criminal Offender Record Information System have been effective.

Project Coordinator Len Engel, of the Crime and Justice Institute, said that the Boston Foundation approached CRJ with a simple question in mind.

The study focused on  the “Ban the Box” provision in the 2010 CORI reforms. The reform restricts job applications from asking about an applicant’s criminal background, with some exceptions. Len Engel says that advocates at a forum held to discuss the report claimed the provision is leading to more job interviews.

Engel said the report did focus on discrimination of ex-offenders and, nor did it show an increase in hirings.

Brad MacDougall, Associate Vice President for Government Affairs for Associated Industries of Massachusetts who also sat on the panel that reviewed the report, said that more systematic reform is needed to help those entering the work force with a criminal background.

MacDougall also mentioned struggles that Massachusetts employers face in hiring workers of any background that could be solved with public policy.

Some CORI reforms were not reviewed in the study including the launch of the iCORI online database. iCORI went online earlier this month and provides greatly improved access to criminal background information checks for potential employers. Advocates heralded the accomplishment, but also warned that the state fee of $25 per record could turn off some users, who may opt to use cheaper, unregulated private background checking companies, which advocates say often provide misleading information.

The iCORI system also only includes searches dating back 10 years. Dropped charges are also not included in the search.

State Representative Elizabeth Malia, a primary sponsor of the CORI reform 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 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.