US Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. would like colleges to stop questioning candidates about their criminal histories early in the admissions process. He adds that asking for criminal record information could deter them from persevering with their applications.
Since the number of people of color who have been charged with crimes is disproportionately high, the US DoE explains that any questions concerning this issue increase the difficulties that disadvantaged students have when pursuing higher education.
King made it clear that the DoE believes in giving young people second chances. It also wants the process to be fair and see that more people need to have a chance at attending the country's colleges and universities.
College presidents nationwide will be receiving a guide called "Beyond the Box: Increasing Access to Higher Education for Justice-Involved Individuals" that contains a series of suggestions to broaden access. The letter that comes with the recommendations requests that the higher education leaders "attract a diverse and qualified student body without creating unnecessary barriers for prospective students who have been involved with the justice system."
Deputy Secretary Kim Hunter Reed asked whether universities have considered themselves if they need to know applicants' criminal histories. If they do, they should let the candidate get further in the admissions process before asking about it.
Another effort to keep people who have criminal histories from being forever stigmatized is the Second Chance Pell Pilot program. The grant gives the opportunity for federal Pell Grants to incarcerated Americans to allow them to attend college.
Reed added that the issue of campus crime is often a priority for parents and students when selecting a college, but that there is no friction between this element and the government's focus on making it easier for applicants with criminal backgrounds to get a post-secondary education.
The US Department of Education website published a release that included the fact that 70 million citizens with criminal records have faced roadblocks that prevented them from pursuing higher education.
Some of the country's largest universities and colleges do not collect criminal justice information as a part of the admissions packet. New York University only obtains such information after preliminary admissions decisions. Data has shown that colleges that admit students with past criminal records do not have increased crime rates.
The Obama administration is committed to enlarging educational opportunities to reduce recidivism and combatting the impact of mass incarceration on US communities. In November, the DoE announced that up to $8 million would be available for Adult Reentry Education Grants to those who have been incarcerated.
The measures are through the Federal Interagency Reentry Council and the White House's My Brother's Keeper Initiative. Both of these programs are about increasing access to education, employment, and housing.
Vincent N. Schiraldi writes at The Huffington Post that using higher education as an element in the efforts to reform our criminal justice system and to end mass incarceration is a good idea.
Research from the RAND Corporation found that giving people in prison an education during and after their incarceration returns five dollars for every dollar spent. It also reduces recidivism by 43% and increases their prospects for a job by 13%, with those who have associates and bachelor's degrees making $10,313 and $21,893 more than high school graduates, respectively.
"There is no downside. Colleges benefit, student's lives are changed, and young people who have faced some of life's greatest hardships can return to their communities as success stories, ready and eager to heal the kinds of problems that lead to crime in the first place."