, Salem, MA

December 4, 2009

Our view: Put the brakes on CORI 'reform'

Some of the bills put on hold while the Legislature enjoys an extended holiday — education reform, for one — deserve quick consideration when formal sessions resume in January.

But lawmakers should take their time on the crime bill, which in the version passed by the Senate just before the break, would relax sentences for non-violent drug offenders and make it more difficult for employers to do background checks on prospective hires.

Soaring costs — the Boston Foundation this week said the state is spending $1.2 billion incarcerating 11,000 people in state prisons and another 14,000 in county facilities — argue for a thorough review of sentencing policies. And everyone benefits when an ex-convict is able to rehabilitate himself and become a productive and law-abiding member of society. But the increasing number of shockingly violent assaults and instances of recidivism argue for harsher penalties for those lacking a conscience or remorse for previous crimes.

It's popular these days to blame someone or something else — an abusive parent, lack of caring, economic circumstances, a drug habit — for one's failings. But ultimately we are all responsible for our own actions, and there must be consequences when those actions hurt others.

Thus we still look askance at the effort by Gov. Deval Patrick and others to change the Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) law to, in effect, make it easier for offenders to mask a history of bad behavior.

Everyone deserves a second — even a third — chance, and we'd hope most employers recognize that. And one business group, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, has endorsed the Senate bill, stating that it will benefit "both job applicants and employers, while maintaining and improving public safety protections."

What CORI reform is all about at heart, however, is allowing people to escape their past, when we should be encouraging them to be honest about it.