Sunday, September 24, 2006

Dem Mass Governor candidate soft on criminals.

Nation: I am all for second chances but restricting access to the records of criminals is not the way to go.

When criminals try to re enter society and remake their lives, they're often haunted by criminal background information that can prevent them from getting a job. For years, state lawmakers and social activists, many of them from minority neighborhoods, have tried to limit distribution of that information, saying they want to help people get another chance. The fight to water down the Criminal Offender Records Information law, or CORI, has emerged as an issue in the governor's race. Democrat Deval L. Patrick, who supports restricting the release of some information, is drawing fire -- first from his defeated Democratic rival, Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, and now from his Republican opponent, Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey. Healey last week launched a television ad quoting Reilly calling Patrick ``soft on crime." ``There is no benefit to hiding someone's criminal history," Healey said in an interview. ``It should be made more widely available, not restricted, as Deval Patrick has suggested. I think it's meaningful that the state's top law enforcement official called Patrick soft on crime." A review of his public comments by the Globe found that Patrick has carefully avoided taking a stand on specific CORI legislation, including the most controversial proposals pending on Beacon Hill. The Public Safety Act of 2006, an omnibus bill that lawmakers did not act on this session, contained measures that would make it easier for offenders to have their records sealed or expunged and allow drug dealers to lop time off their sentences. For five months, Patrick was listed as a supporter of that bill on the website of one of the groups pressing the legislation, the Massachusetts Alliance to Reform CORI. After Reilly criticized Patrick, a leader of that group removed Patrick's name from the website, saying it was a mistake to list him as a proponent. Currently, more than 11,000 employers have access to criminal records under CORI, and nearly all of them serve vulnerable populations such as nursing home residents and schoolchildren. In debates and in speeches, Patrick has said he supports the idea of giving people with criminal records ``a second chance." ``Moving from jail back into responsible society is a great idea," he said in a June speech, ``but only if CORI doesn't defeat your second chance." In an interview Friday, Patrick said he believes in ``tightening up" the current criminal background system, which he said is ``overbroad" and ``inaccurate," and may prevent convicted criminals from making a clean start. ``All I'm talking about is creating a way for those who need information that is relevant . . . to have that information," Patrick said in an interview Friday. ``But also make sure that CORI doesn't defeat their every second chance." .....``Deval supports the idea of a second chance," said Small. ``He recognizes that the way the system was set up hurts people. What I loved about the guy is he took the time to meet with people with CORI's. He heard their stories. He studied the laws. He said the system was falling apart. Whether he embraced our piece, he's committed to making the system fair and efficient; giving access to public safety but making sure people don't pay for the rest of their lives." They say that supporting Patrick is easy; his main opponent, Healey, opposes any form of CORI reform. ``As an advocate who has investigated the positions of the various candidates, I think [Patrick] believes the system needs to be worked on to allow appropriate employment," said Brandyn Keating, executive director of the non-profit Criminal Justice Policy Coalition. ``Ideologically the candidates [Patrick and Healey] are on opposite sides of the issue. It's not like they each support some form of CORI reform. They're on opposite poles," said Keating, whose group does not get involved in electoral politics because of its nonprofit status. But some prosecutors say there is no middle ground in the CORI debate -- a politician is either for providing access to criminal record information or is siding with criminals and making it tougher for law enforcement officials to do their job. The Massachusetts District Attorneys Association has gone on record opposing any efforts to weaken the existing law. ``There are different versions that people have proposed," said Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz, a Republican. ``My opinion is they raise public safety issues. I believe an employer should be able to make an informed decision whether to hire or not hire someone. People have the right to be safe."

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