Racial bias in the criminal justice system has made life miserable for people of color — especially those belonging to low-income households — forever. A petty crime committed in teenage years dooms the chances of a good college education and subsequently a respectable job for scores of otherwise qualified people.
In recent months, civil rights groups have enjoyed prominent success in diminishing the criminal record-checking box from employment forms. President Obama, in November 2015, issued an executive order banning employers from inquiring about criminal history in the first step of the hiring process.
Now, in the apparent extension of the same step, the movement to “Ban the Box” is finally making its way into the education sector.
Secretary of Education John B. King released a set of guidelines on Monday asking colleges to stop questioning prospective students about criminal records during early stages of the admissions process. Speaking at UCLA, he said inquisition regarding one’s criminal history could deter applicants from finishing their initial applications.
“We’ve been committed to these efforts because we know that for a nation to lead in the 21st century, we need the full talent and energy of every American,” said King. “We believe in second chances. That’s why this administration is also making it a priority to help students involved in the criminal justice system benefit from the second chances an education can make possible.”
It is no secret that most colleges let criminal justice records influence their admission policies, even though a number of them do not have a written policy on how to handle the information. Moreover, since most students with criminal background are either people of color or belong to lower-income households, that small box on the admission form shatters their dreams of turning their lives around and attends school.
“Colleges and universities using disciplinary history as admissions criteria should consider how to design admissions policies that do not have the unjustified effect of discriminating against individuals on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion and disability,” the proposal, dubbed as “Beyond The Box,” reads.
It also includes following recommendations:
- Delaying requests for criminal records until after an admission decision has been made.
- Explaining how students can answer questions about their criminal past.
- Avoiding broad questions about the criminal record.
- Allowing students the chance to explain the encounters.
- Training admissions personnel and counselors on the use of criminal history data.
“Too many Americans are denied opportunities to lead fulfilling and productive lives because of a past arrest or conviction — including opportunities to access a quality education,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, supporting the recommendation. “Expanding access to higher education for justice-involved individuals can help them step out of the shadow of their pasts and embark on the path to a brighter future.”
Hopefully, the new initiative will lead to broader change in the society.