Cons far outweigh pros with CORI laws
By Margery Eagan
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Like millions of Americans this Christmas week, Tracy Parks, 45,
desperately needs a job.
But he’s got a bigger hindrance than most: a criminal record.
A month back he was very hopeful about a $20-an-hour job as a
custodian at Cambridge Hospital.
“I went and took the drug test and passed, and the written test and
passed. My references were excellent,” he said. “They took me to human
resources and I was called in to the interview and told to take the
Tracy Parks thought he finally had a job. Then they saw his criminal
offender record information, or CORI report, and the offer never came.
“It was another slap in the face, and it gets overwhelming sometimes,”
Parks says. “To think you can’t be a provider for your kids, for your
family. What kind of guidance can you give when you can’t even buy
your kids a pair of sneakers at Christmas?”
Once upon a time, we believed a man who served his time, particularly
for a nonviolent offense of his youth, deserved another chance, and we
limited CORI information to law enforcement.
Now, the pendulum has swung too far the other way. There’s almost
unrestricted access to CORI records, which go back 15 years for
felonies and 10 years for misdemeanors. Schools even do CORI checks on
mothers volunteering as chaperones for kindergartners’ trips to the
This turnaround has created a situation where thousands of men and
women, most of them urban and poor, can’t get hired except in
construction, the ex-cons’ last welcoming refuge. But the recession
has taken construction jobs, too.
Now we’ve got a pending disaster where CORI regulations have gone too
far. Men like Tracy Parks, a recovering addict who did seven years for
drug and property crimes, can’t get a job even though he’s been sober
for nine years.
And while the state Senate has passed a CORI reform bill - with
support from Deval Patrick, Tom Menino, Police Commissioner Ed Davis
and Suffolk Sheriff Angela Cabral - the House has not.
The Boston Workers Alliance occupies a small office in Grove Hall
filled with computers and literature on how to get jobs when you’ve
got a criminal past. Executive Director Aaron Tanaka talks about the
gnawing discouragement and hopelessness he sees in unemployed men and
women on the verge of being hired who end up going through a dozen
turn-downs because of their CORIs.
These are not violent offenders. They’re not seeking jobs working
closely with children or the elderly or the disabled. They are
applying for entry-level jobs like overnight cleaning and maintenance.
After repeated rejections, he said, it is hard for them to keep
Tracy Parks, who volunteers at the Alliance, speaks gratefully of his
days as a Big Dig laborer. Then he could pay his rent and child
support. He could put a bike or a video game under the Christmas tree.
All that is gone now.
“There’s a lot of sleepless nights,” said Parks, an Army vet who lives
in Roxbury. “It’s hard when you get so close, then nothing. I don’t
know if they’ll fix the law or how long it will take if they do. All I
know is I have to keep plugging and trying and praying something will