New Bill Would Create Educational Opportunities For Students With Criminal Records

Representative Cedric Richmond (D-La.) introduced a bill on May 7 to create more educational opportunities for previously incarcerated Americans. The Beyond the Box for Higher Education Act of 2019, was initially introduced to the Senate by Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

Schatz’s bill was first introduced in September 2018 and encouraged colleges and universities in the US to remove criminal and juvenile justice questions from their admissions applications. The bill died in the last Congressional session, according to GovTrack.

Richmond’s new measure would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 and direct the secretary of education to issue guidance to higher education institutions about removing criminal and juvenile justice questions for their admissions applications. The Louisiana Democrat has made reforming the criminal justice system one of his key issues.

“Education is the gateway for success in accomplishing anything in life, and all American citizens regardless of a criminal background deserve the right to an education,” Richmond said in a statement. “This bill is a necessary step forward to removing collateral consequences and systemic barriers to entry for people who deserve another chance at life.”

Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) co-sponsored the bill with Richmond. In a statement, Cummings said that education “changes lives” and has the power to keep people off the road leading them to incarceration. “It is tragic that aspiring students may be barred from educational opportunities because of a criminal or juvenile record. We must look beyond the box to see the person who is attempting to better themselves,” Cummings said.

Growing evidence shows that the stigma of past incarceration worsens racial and socioeconomic disparities and limits the opportunities of those in the criminal justice system, Association of American Colleges & Universities President Lynn Pasquerella said in a May 2018 statement.

“Some estimates indicate that up to one-third of American adults have criminal records, for reasons that include nonviolent offenses and arrests that did not result in conviction,” Pasquerella said. “These individuals — a disproportionate share of whom are men of color — face significant economic consequences, including low rates of employment and restricted earnings.”

Pasquerella noted that the possibilities for those who want a path to a better future “can be limited” and made worse by institutions’ admissions practices. Evidence does not support the claim that campuses are safer because colleges and universities screen for criminal history. “In fact, because education has been associated with lower recidivism rates, educating those with past criminal justice involvement may have broad positive effects for society,” she wrote.

Education is not the only sector in need of reform regarding dealings with the formerly incarcerated. Twenty-three states and Washington, DC prohibit private and public employers from asking potential employees their criminal history until they pass an initial screening, have an interview, or have been given a conditional job offer, USA Today reported.

New York City bans most businesses from asking prospective employees if they have a criminal history until a job offer has been made.

More than 700 individuals, companies, associations, and nonprofits have pledged to participate in a Society of Human Resources Management initiative, which asks businesses to give the same opportunities to qualified applicants who are formerly incarcerated.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.