Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is launching a new initiative called Project Opportunity, which aims to help residents seal or expunge their criminal records and help them get better access to jobs and housing. WGBH Morning Edition host Joe Mathieu spoke with Rufus Faulk, director of Boston's Office of Public Safety, about the new program. The transcript has been edited for clarity.

Joe Mathieu: You were director of victim services at the Mass Department of Corrections earlier in your career, so you have pretty unique insight into how difficult it is to manage life with criminal charges or to reintegrate into society after being incarcerated. How would this program help?

Rufus Faulk: So the goal of this program is to make sure that we connect residents with free legal consultation to determine if their CORI's even eligible for sealing or expungement. We cover the filing costs for that. But I think one of the main features of this program is our ability to, once folks have their records viewed, then try to connect them to employment and other social service opportunities. We're just trying to assure that every resident in the city of Boston has an opportunity to prosper and recognize that those with CORI often have trouble doing so.

Mathieu: And when you say "CORI," we're referring to criminal charges in general, right?

Faulk: Yes, absolutely.

Mathieu: Are you working with the private sector [and] local industry to help place these individuals into jobs?

Faulk: So that's one of the main features of this. We are making sure that we connect to the local and regional economy to try to see which industries are the ones that are most open for growth, and what we found is those tech spaces, those spaces around hospitality [and] in those building trades. We've had experience with this with a program called Operation Exit, which features some of the same population, giving them training around the building trades and then trying to usher them into that field, so we're trying to expand upon that into other industries that are open for growth for folks who have CORI records.

Mathieu: We did some exclusive reporting about Operation Exit here at WGBH News, and I was lucky enough to attend one of the graduation ceremonies. It's been a wild success from all metrics in terms of placing people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds into new careers, essentially. The numbers are relatively small, though, right? How will you start in terms of some of the class sizes, if you will, in helping individuals make that move?

Faulk: So as of right now, we've had 65 registrants. We're trying to be very broad in terms of our external partners — both internal in terms of our city departments, but also externally working with other entities and departments who deal with that similar population. So we're trying to cast a wide net. It's simple registration. You go to, and that gets the process started. We have a great partnership with Lawyers Clearinghouse and that's our legal partner who [is] supplying the volunteer lawyers to meet with residents and to thoroughly review their CORI options. So we're trying to be as inclusive and expansive as possible, trying to turn over every stone in terms of industry, but also make sure we're pulling in all of our partners, whether it be the Suffolk County DA's office, whether it be entities like our local courthouses and entities like STRIVE Boston — just trying to make sure that we are inclusive and expansive so that everyone recognizes that this is a free opportunity for them.

Mathieu: Director Faulk, that brings us to the greater conversation happening here in Boston and all over the country: how to break systemic racism. The fact is, criminal records disproportionately impact people of color.

Faulk: Absolutely, so we recognize that some of the unintended consequences of policy has been really just overpolicing and over criminalization of Black and brown communities, largely stemming from the war on drugs, where a lot of folks who were dealing with addiction were then criminalized. That created a massive population of folks who have these CORI records. And recognizing that in this time that we're living in, we're looking at, How do we have a real public health approach to closing some of these gaps? And that's what we recognize in our Project Opportunity. Mayor Walsh has made the idea around second chances not only foundational in his life, it's been foundational in his tenure as mayor. So this program is just a continuation of that.

Mathieu: Another story about second chances. There are efforts underway to dismantle systemic racism in city government. The mayor recently appointed a chief equity officer. The City Council is taking its own path. But I wonder, Director Faulk, as a man of color who works inside this very system, what are your thoughts on this? How much work does Boston need to do?

Faulk: I'm someone who was born and raised in Roxbury. I'm 38 years old. I've been very fortunate in my life that I don't have a CORI. Well, I actually do have a CORI; I had a trespassing charge when I was 14. But I also had friends who were 16 [and] 17 who were caught with a bag of weed, and that one bag of weed really derailed their entire lives.

So I recognize what the landscape has been in the city of Boston and how so many of us could get caught up in the system so easily. Boston has a long history of issues around racism that impact Black and brown communities, but I think the first step is for us to acknowledge them, and then the second step is make sure that we're listening to the community to fully address them.

And Project Opportunity is continuing our goal in trying to address the systemic racism and recognizing that the only way we will be able to undo some of the past missteps is to be able to be really at the forefront around policies. This is our attempt to do [something for] those impacted by CORI and impacted by criminal record. So we're just trying to continue that process [and] recognize that we have a lot of work to do.

But I think Boston can be a leader, especially in this time. We are in a unique times. This is historic times around making sure Black life is valued in policy, and I think we are on the path. And I feel good about being an administrator and being able to lead such an effort.