Boston Foundation report seeks to modernize state’s CORI system, employer guidelines: Regional workforce shortages drive a call for change

May 11, 2007

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Boston  – The Boston Foundation and the Crime and Justice Institute have released a report recommending changes in the way the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) is used, in order to remove unnecessary barriers to employment for men and women with criminal histories.  At the same time, the report calls for retaining the system’s ability to maintain the safety of the workplace. The report is the work of a broadly inclusive Task Force convened by the Boston Foundation in 2006 and chaired by Robert Gittens, Vice President of Public Affairs, Northeastern University, and Elizabeth Pattullo, President and CEO, Beacon Health Strategies LLC.

Among the leading recommendations by the Task Force are:

  • Expand the mission and scope of the Criminal History Systems Board to reflect the importance of reintegrating ex-offenders into the Commonwealth’s workforce;  
  • Revise hiring guidelines that regulate employment in the health and human services sector to avoid disqualifying individuals who are appropriate for employment; 
  • Simplify the format of CORI reports for non-law enforcement clients of the system to make them more user-friendly.

“As a community, we have to create a climate where people with criminal records who are qualified can join the workfCORI 2007 Report PDF orce,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “The Task Force has found ways to achieve this, balancing the imperative of justice with the needs of our regional economy.”

The report, entitled  CORI: Opening Doors of Opportunity: A Workforce and Public Safety Imperative , was released at an Understanding Boston forum held at the Boston Foundation Thursday, May 10. It follows a report published in 2005 by the Boston Foundation entitled CORI: Balancing Individual Rights and Public Access , also executed in a partnership with the Crime and Justice Institute. A third report,  Rethinking Justice in Massachusetts: Public Attitudes Toward Crime and Punishment , also published in 2005, tracked public opinion about the sharp increase in the incarcerated population in the Commonwealth and about current strategies for reintegrating ex-offenders who have been released into the community.

The Task Force explored opportunities for employment for ex-offenders, seeking ways to reintegrate them into the workforce. This comes at a time when flat or declining population growth has led to more than 70,000 jobs unfilled in the Commonwealth because of a dearth of candidates. This so-called employment mismatch has been widely cited as a threat to the region’s ability to thrive economically since employers in our increasingly global economy are likely to relocate in order to find an adequate labor supply.

Meanwhile, the number of residents with a criminal record is at an historic high. Currently in Massachusetts, an estimated 2.8 million individual criminal records are on file, and about 60,000 people are convicted of a crime each year. The Task Force heard from experts who have argued that the current CORI system is creating a permanent underclass of unemployable men and women who are, for that reason, at increased risk of recidivism.

At the same time, the report addresses a public misperception that all offenders are violent offenders. In fact, of the nearly 60,000 convictions that took place in 2004, about 70 percent were for misdemeanors, and 63 percent resulted in probation or fines and not incarceration. In other words, the great majority of those stigmatized by CORI are not considered at risk of a serious or violent offense in the future. Indeed, only a very small percentage of the offender population ever committed violent crime.

In addition, the Task Force heard significant anecdotal evidence that the current CORI system often leaves those acquitted or cleared of offenses with a stigma that is unjustified. The use of complex codes, as well as confusing abbreviations and terms add to the likelihood that simply having a CORI report discourages employers from considering ex-offenders who would otherwise be appropriate for the job. Limits in the budget and in out-dated technology used by the Criminal History Systems Board have only intensified the problem, and a long-overdue investment in the capacity of the Board by the Legislature and the Governor was recommended.

Every proposed change to the current language and process by which the CORI system is executed was considered for its budget implications, and many of the recommendations are ‘budget-neutral.” The potential costs to the state include the cost of systems change to upgrade the technology of reporting and to provide expanded training, as well as the cost of a fingerprint-based identification system and the creation of an interagency protocol for communicating all relevant information.

“To their great credit, the members of this Task Force took up an issue that can be inflammatory and created a common-sense set of recommendations that could be implemented tomorrow with little cost and genuine benefit to the whole Commonwealth,” said Elyse Clawson, Executive Director of the Crime and Justice Institute.

In addition to the two co-chairs, members of the Task Force included: Andrea Cabral, Sheriff of Suffolk County; Tom Coury, Executive Director, Gardiner Howland Shaw Foundation; Marc Draisen, Executive Director, Metropolitan Area Planning Council; Haywood Fennell, Founder and President, Stanley Jones Clean Slate Project; Lewis Finfer, Massachusetts Community Action Network; Tom Jones, Vice President and Counsel, The Employers’ Resource Group, Associated Industries of Massachusetts; Lori Kipnis, Human Resources Director, Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston; Larry Mayes, Chief of Human Services, the Mayor’s Office, City of Boston; Jack McDevitt, Director, Center for Criminal Justice Policy Research, Northeastern University; Bonnie Michelman, Director, Police, Security and Outside Services, Massachusetts General Hospital; Ben Thompson, Executive Director, STRIVE; and Michael Weekes, President and CEO, Massachusetts Council of Human Service Providers.

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The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the nation, with assets of over $830 million.  In 2006, the Foundation and its donors made more than $70 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of $71 million.  The Foundation is made up of some 850 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes.  The Boston Foundation also serves as a major civic leader, provider of information, convener, and sponsor of special initiatives designed to address the community’s and region’s most pressing challenges.  For more information about the Boston Foundation, visit www.tbf.org or call 617-338-1700.

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The Crime and Justice Institute works to improve public safety and human service delivery in Massachusetts and nationwide with a creative, collaborative approaches to today’s most pressing and complex public safety problems.  Through its work, CJI helps to make the public safety system more fair, results-driven, and cost-effective.  A key CJI strength lies in our ability to work with policymakers and practitioners to bridge the gap between research and practice in public institutions and communities. In particular, CJI focuses on use of evidence-based practices to reduce crime and recidivism. Policymakers and practitioners alike benefit from our insightful, evidence-based recommendations. CJI’s staff brings experience both as criminal justice researchers and practitioners in the fields of juvenile justice, human services, and corrections. This includes expertise in coordinating data collection and analysis and conducting outcome and process evaluations.  In addition, CJI’s staff has experience facilitating system improvement processes with broad groups of community and agency stakeholders.