New Senate Legislation Would Increase Access To College For Formerly Incarcerated People

 

For Immediate Release: September 12, 2018

Contact: Lori Rodriguez, lrodriguez@collegeandcommunity.org, or (646) 380-7777

New York, NY – Today, Senator Brian Schatz’s (D-HI) office introduced legislation allowing the Secretary of Education to issue guidance recommending the removal of criminal history screenings on college applications.  The Beyond the Box for Higher Education Act amends the Higher Education Act of 1965 and comes on the heels of the Common Application “banning the box” in August 2018.

Beyond questions on applications regarding previous criminal justice involvement, many schools employ practices that have a “chilling effect” on applicants, like requesting to see legally sealed rap sheets or requiring a letter of recommendation from prison officials before making admissions decisions. And because the criminal justice system disproportionately targets low-income people of color, communities of color are most affected by criminal history screenings on college applications. While higher education institutions typically cite campus safety as the reason for asking the question, a Center for Community Alternatives study showed that there is no correlation between criminal history screenings and campus safety: in fact, most crimes on campuses are first-time offenses. Furthermore, the data that colleges collect are not used in ways that significantly improve campus safety. Less than half of the schools that collect and use criminal justice information have written policies in place regarding what to do with the information, and only 40 percent train staff on how to interpret such information.

The Beyond the Box in Higher Education Act would require the Department of Education to create guidance addressing these oversights in data collection and utilization. The recommendations and guidance would 1) determine whether criminal and juvenile justice questions are necessary in the initial application for admissions process; 2) develop a process to determine in what situations criminal or juvenile justice information can be requested of students for non-admissions purposes, and provide a process for applicants and training for staff on the use of such information; and 3) offer recommendations for colleges and universities that decide to keep criminal and juvenile justice questions. With this guidance in place, colleges could more meaningfully address concerns related to campus safety.

Statement from Vivian Nixon, Executive Director of College and Community Fellowship:

“This bill closes a gap left by the Common Application’s removal of the question of prior justice involvement. Currently, higher education institutions do not rely on evidence-based practices when collecting data on prior justice involvement. This makes data collection a tool of intimidation that upholds stigma and does not address real questions of campus safety. Communities of color are disproportionately affected by our criminal justice system. Educational institutions should not magnify the barriers this system puts in place by denying the transformational opportunity education offers. Education is essential to success and we applaud Senator Schatz for introducing this common-sense legislation. CCF’s organizing work led to the State University of New York moving the question off its application; soon after, the Common Application dropped the box as well. This bill maintains the momentum of the movement to make college accessible to all.”

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College & Community Fellowship (CCF) is a non-profit dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated women earn their college degrees as a key strategy to successful reentry. CCF mentors students until graduation day, providing academic support, financial coaching, and other opportunities to build social capital. We approach systemic change through our national advocacy and technical assistance programs.

College & Community Fellowship

Our Mission

College & Community Fellowship (CCF) is a nonprofit dedicated to helping women with criminal convictions earn college degrees so that they, their families, and their communities can thrive. We advocate for equity and opportunity for the communities we serve.

CCF supports students until graduation day and beyond, providing academic support, career coaching, financial development, and much more. We approach systemic change through our national advocacy and technical assistance programs.