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

For Immediate Release: September 12, 2018
Contact: Melanie Steinhardt, msteinhardt@collegeandcommunity.org (646) 380-7775

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.

Common Application Removes Question About Criminal Justice History

College & Community Fellowship
For Immediate Release: August 9, 2018
Contact: Lori Rodriguez,
lrodriguez@collegeandcommunity.org, or (646) 380-7771  

New York, NY – On Tuesday, in an unexpected yet laudable move, the Common Application dropped the question of criminal justice involvement from its application. Used by more than 700 colleges and universities around the world, the Common App is the country’s most widely used college application. This move comes after a more than 10-year campaign to “Ban the Box” led by a coalition of community activists and organizations, and elected officials. The Common Application’s decision to ban the box will have tremendously positive effects for college applicants with justice histories, and for colleges that benefit from those students’ presence.

The criminal history question is not asked in ways that meaningfully improve campus safety, and frequently serves only to deter the justice-involved from seeking higher education upon release. A study conducted by the EIO (Education from the Inside Out) Coalition found that for every student rejected by SUNY admissions committees because of a felony conviction, 15 did not complete their applications due to the unwelcoming experience of facing the checkbox. Banning the box is a good first step, but the institutions that still ask the question have more work to do: most institutions have no set procedure for following up with applicants, resulting in arbitrary admissions practices like requesting access to legally sealed rap sheets and other unpredictable, ineffective criteria. A Center for Community Alternatives study found that less than half of the schools that collect and use criminal justice information have written policies in place, and only 40 percent train staff on how to interpret such information. We hope that this decision by the College Board signals a broad move by colleges to using evidence-based practices for dealing with issues of campus safety.

Statement from Vivian Nixon, formerly incarcerated receiver of college reentry services, Executive Director of College and Community Fellowship:
“Upon my release from the criminal justice system, I found myself forced to constantly explain my mistakes as I faced questions about my criminal history on job, housing, and even college admissions applications. These checkboxes asking me to self-disclose weren’t just an annoyance – they threatened to derail my success and keep me from being the engaged citizen I longed to be. Education is a human right and certain communities in our society do not have access to the same quality of education that I believe every American deserves. We congratulate the College Board for finally implementing Obama-era guidance from the Department of Education and banning the box, and look forward to a future where justice and safety are evidence-based, rather than stigma-driven.”###
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.

FIRST STEPS Act lays the first steps for an expanded prison system

For Immediate Release: May 24, 2018

Contact: Lori Rodriguez, lrodriguez@collegeandcommunity.org, or (646) 380-7771

New York, NY – Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the FIRST STEP Act by an overwhelming majority. College & Community Fellowship (CCF) firmly opposes the bill and urges the Senate to review and reject this bill. Though the bill attempts to make reforms to federal prisons, by and large, this bill stands to grow the for-profit prison system.  As JLUSA puts it, this prison system harms people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds and economic classes, and disproportionately harms marginalized people, including black and brown people, queer and trans people, and immigrants. Furthermore, as JLUSA points out, the FIRST STEP Act sets up the potential for long-term damage through its provisions which allow prison wardens to enter into partnerships with private entities, its calls for electronic monitoring as the only home release condition, and its earned credit provisions, all of which set the stage for the expansion of the custody of the Bureau of Prisons. Perhaps most egregiously, the Act requires that all persons incarcerated in federal correctional facilities must be housed no more than 500 miles from their homes; while on the surface this provision sounds like an ideal condition that would help family members visit their loved ones, in actuality the provision is impossible without substantial investment in constructing new federal prisons.

Though the bill includes provisions for evidence-based recidivism reduction programs, the bill’s $250 million allocation over five years is insufficient to successfully fund the programs, and reveals a lack of consultation and input from service providers and the communities they serve. It would serve the nation better to focus on sentencing reform that reduces the prison population on the front end, rather than push forward legislation with a net outcome of expanding the federal prison system through new facilities and surveillance in the community.

Statement from Rev. Vivian D. Nixon, Executive Director of College and Community Fellowship, formerly incarcerated beneficiary of reentry programs:

“As we move into a more progressive bipartisan era of criminal justice policy, we must not relegate those who have been affected by criminal punishment to the economic or policy shaping margins. We must find ways to increase their chances of success by providing reintegration services that offer more than transitional housing, transitional employment, and stopgap medical services. We have the opportunity to embrace a public policy agenda that builds on the successes of programs like CCF, which has a recidivism rate of less than three percent over three years. We attain these low numbers through a focus on a sustainable delivery model that takes into direct account the needs of those directly impacted, and we urge the Senate to carefully consider the long-term implications of passing this bill, which stands to grow the criminal justice system while offering little to no meaningful reforms to help those directly impacted by the bill.”

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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.