Higher Education and Criminal Records Essay

Submitted By nelliebell26
Words: 7752
Pages: 32

CLOSING THE DOORS TO HIGHER EDUCATION: ANOTHER COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCE OF A CRIMINAL CONVICTION

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
In recent years, colleges and universities in the United States have increasingly included criminal history background checks in their admissions processes and have started to create exclusionary policies. These polices are being implemented despite the fact that there is virtually no evidence to suggest that the past criminal histories of students are relevant risk factors that affect the rate of crime on college campuses. Although these policies will not make campuses any safer, such policies do carry with them some very significant and dangerous consequences. In their haste to make campuses safer, college admissions officers are adopting policies that threaten to make the community at large less safe and more racially divided. This working paper discusses various aspects of the growing practice of the use of criminal history background checks in the college admission practice. We first consider the data on crime on campus which shows that colleges remain remarkably safe places particularly when compared to the larger community. We review the available, albeit limited data that suggests that crime on campus is more likely to be committed by students without criminal records than students with prior records. The paper reports the results of surveys conducted by the Center for Community Alternatives and the National HIRE Network that show the lack of standards within states, including state university systems, and across states as to whether or not to screen for a criminal history, and how use information gathered through background checks is used. Finally, we raise concerns that because racial disparities figure prominently in our criminal justice system, the practice of excluding college applicants who have criminal histories will inevitably impact prospective students of color more than their white counterparts. Thus, the use of criminal records to screen out prospective students is not race neutral, but rather encroaches on the civil and human rights of people with criminal records. As education is clearly associated with lower recidivism rates, impeding people’s ability to get a college education undermines public safety in the larger society. We conclude the discussion by pointing to several successful model programs that offer examples about ways to help people with records access higher education as well as recommendations for parsimonious use of criminal records in determining admission decisions. There is growing support for returning higher education to correctional facilities. It is ironic then, that as higher educational opportunity doors are reopening in prisons, they are closing in the community. Because of the tragic racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system, policies and practices that exclude people with criminal records from institutions of higher learning will set back the gains of the civil rights struggles to open higher education to all people, regardless of race or ethnicity. i

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CLOSING THE DOORS TO HIGHER EDUCATION: ANOTHER COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCE OF A CRIMINAL CONVICTION1 Introduction In recent years, colleges and universities in the United States have increasingly included criminal history background checks in their admissions processes and have started to create exclusionary policies based on these background checks. Although colleges have a duty to consider a range of factors that would affect the safety of their campus communities - the students, faculty and employees - a cavalier use of criminal records may generate a false sense of security. As discussed in this paper, there is virtually no evidence to suggest that past criminal histories of students are related to crime on college campuses, and thus policies to exclude such students will not make campuses any safer. The unfettered use of criminal records to screen out prospective students will have…