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Should Colleges Be Collecting Criminal History?

It’s a human thing to have regrets, especially from high school. Whether it was the haircut that made you look less like a Parisian hipster and more like Jim Carrey’s character from Dumb & Dumber, or maybe even that ex that promised you the world but all they gave you was a lack of trust in future relationships and a newfound respect for the necessity of lube. Most often, your high school regrets are usually remedied by time. But for many applicants, their regrets are usually way consequential than the stereotypical scene phase.

This article is going to focus on non violent offenders. It should go without saying that students who have a history of aggravated assault, rape, or murder, should be held under more scrutiny during the admissions process.

If you have applied or are applying to college you’ve probably seen a question or two regarding your criminal history. On the Common Application, the most used application for private universities, the question regarding criminal histories is required. Most people click no and think nothing of it, but if you’re one of the people who do have to click yes, then you are met with a box where you must detail what happened. For advocates of ex cons receiving an education, this detail box may seem like a small victory, but when you look deeper, you see just how small it really is. Many people with a criminal history often give up before completing an application. The anxiety associated with clicking that stigmatized button is often too great to champion. The Center for Community Alternatives stated that many more people with convictions actually give up rather than complete the applications process. 60 of the 64 campuses of the State University of New York found that nearly two-thirds of applicants who checked “yes” in the felony box never completed the applications process.

Their refusal to finish doesn’t just affect them, because when society loses out on potential scientists, politicians, or teachers. We will all feel it.

Like all choices made, there is an opportunity cost when it comes to refusing students on the basis of criminal history. For one thing, that person, and society, lose out on any betterment that could have been achieved through receiving an education. If you’re still not convinced that the “detail box” provided to applicants is still infinitesimal, let me further destroy your hopes for a better future. According to the Chronicle for Higher Education, more than 60% of colleges currently consider criminal histories in decisions, but only 38% of admissions staffs receives training on interpreting criminal records. Due to a lack of an actual education for application administration on this matter, there will be a further deprival of opportunity due to the fact the the administration does not know how to understand and handle the information being given. So even if that one third of applicants in New York somehow surmised the courage to apply, their effort and candor would most likely be met with stunning incompetence.

Resistance is  futile.

If the point still hasn’t been hammered out to you, chew on this. The only other alternatives to getting a college education for many ex cons is either go to a non competitive school, go through degree mills, or get a prison education. The former two have some benefits and costs that come with them, but the concept of a prison education has the most benefits. The creation of the Cornell’s Prison Education Program (CPEP), which has expanded its classes and degree programs to local prisons, have proven to be successful in reducing reincarceration rates of these inmates as well as providing them with a better future. Reincarceration rates for participants in prison education programs were 46 percent lower than for non-participants. Reincarceration is a massive issue especially when looking at the numbers. In April 2014 a study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Following Prison Releases for Three and Five Year sentences showed, an estimated two-thirds (68 percent) of 405,000 prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within three years of release from prison, and three-quarters (77 percent) were arrested within five years. More than a third (37 percent) of prisoners who were arrested within five years of release were arrested within the first six months after release, with more than half (57 percent) arrested by the end of the first year. Paying for all of these inmates on average costs about $168, 000 per inmate, compared to the roughly $1,800 it costs to educate these felons.

So, I know what you’re thinking, if these programs are such a saving grace, then why do we need to worry about colleges collecting criminal history?

Sorry to burst your bubble but the 90s were an awful time. In 1994, Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, despite being meant to prevent the further institution of crime and strengthen our police force, it’s negative consequence of this act was that is cut funding for the 350 college prison programs throughout our nation. Then, if that wasn’t enough, in 1995, with the passage of the Omnibus Crime Bill, Pell Grants and federal student loans were made unavailable to incarcerated persons.

So again we delve further into the rabbit hole.

If you still don’t understand the problem, it’s probably because you’re distracted by the huge elephant in the room. More specifically, the elephant that is talking about how admitting students with criminal histories can pose a liability threat when they take part in a crime on campus. Granted, that argument is logical and does come up a lot, but sometimes logic doesn’t match the data.

 Only 4 percent of crimes committed within the past three years had been carried out by students with criminal histories.

Only 4% of crimes. That’s not a typo. The crimes committed by students with criminal crimes are almost so statistically insignificant, that you start to wonder why colleges don’t require students to have a criminal history when considering applicants for admission.

So what can you do?

Bug the absolute sh*t out of your congressional representatives. If there’s one thing congressmen and women love, it’s signing their names in bills that can cut costs (sic. Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act). If you want to do more, donate to the Prison Education Foundation. PEF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, tax-exempt 509(a)(1) public charity dedicated to providing incarcerated men and women with the opportunity to change their lives through higher education and any donation is significant.

1,800 dollars can provide an inmate with an education but the value of a second chance is unquantifiable

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I'm a Southern California senior who's just trying to figure out what I'm doing with my life before college. I'm aiming to be a Poli Sci major at any school that's take me :/. In the future you might meet me in two scenarios: I'd be your attorney, in which case, yikes I hope we win; I'd be running for political office, in which case Vote Chisom! Follow me on twitter @chisomnwuda

I'm a Southern California senior who's just trying to figure out what I'm doing with my life before college. I'm aiming to be a Poli Sci major at any school that's take me :/. In the future you might meet me in two scenarios: I'd be your attorney, in which case, yikes I hope we win; I'd be running for political office, in which case Vote Chisom! Follow me on twitter @chisomnwuda

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