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Senator Spilka Votes to Pass Comprehensive Crime Bill

November 18, 2009

Looking to reduce the recidivism rate, relieve overcrowded prisons and improve access to criminal history records, the Senate on Wednesday passed an omnibus crime package that has support from the law enforcement community.

“This bill is smart on crime,” stated Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland).  “It places a premium on unprecedented mandatory post-release supervision, as well as electronic monitoring programs, all of which are proven to reduce recidivism.”

Senator Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), lead sponsor of the bill, said: “The reforms contained in this bill represent a comprehensive approach to reducing recidivism by criminal offenders and a ‘smart on crime’ approach to our sentencing laws. I am pleased with the support of my colleagues.”

In a letter issued before the final vote, Public Safety Secretary Kevin M. Burke wrote: “I firmly believe [this bill] will enhance, rather than jeopardize, public safety by facilitating the appropriate re-entry of ex-offenders into the community.”

The bill gives sheriffs statutory authority to move eligible offenders into day reporting programs which have been operating successfully for years. It also allows inmates serving mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes to qualify for work release after serving two-thirds of their sentence.

“The Senate President and her colleagues deserve a great deal of credit for moving on this much-needed legislation,” Norfolk County Sheriff Michael G. Bellotti said. “These sentence reforms are extremely worthwhile. The bill gives sheriffs the opportunity to address overcrowding while increasing public safety by requiring greater accountability from inmates when they reenter the community.”

Middlesex Sheriff James V. DiPaola said: “I commend the Massachusetts Senate for taking action to balance public safety interests with criminal rehabilitation in a fiscally responsible way. This legislation maintains the appropriate level of toughness and at the same time uses an intellectual approach to rehabilitation of nonviolent offenders.”

The sentencing and supervision improvements will produce short- and long-term savings by reducing costs associated with incarceration. The annual average cost in Massachusetts to supervise a person is $2,500 while the annual average cost to incarcerate is $43,000.

This legislation also increases access to the CORI system, allowing employers and landlords to request records on felony convictions for 10 years after an inmate’s release and on misdemeanor convictions for 5 years after release, as well as all pending charges.

Also, information on all convictions for sex offenses, murder and manslaughter will be available for life. Law enforcement continues to have full access to CORI. Improved accuracy and faster response times are achieved through a new Internet-based system required by the legislation.

Other CORI reforms include:

  • Allowing individuals to access their own CORI information and providing for a self-audit process at no fee;
  • Increasing sanctions for the knowing misuse or communication of CORI information;
  • Creating a new offense for using CORI to commit a crime against an individual or engage in harassment of an individual, punishable by imprisonment in jail or house of correction for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $5,000 or both;
  • Providing liability protection for employers who use the CORI system if the decision is made within 90 days of obtaining the report and providing law enforcement with increased protections from allegations of improper use of CORI; and
  • Requiring agencies and employers relying on criminal histories from the CORI system to provide copies to the individual.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for further action.

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