Why Colleges Should Go ‘Beyond the Box’ and Stop Criminal Record Screenings

The Ban the Box movement has been advocating for employers to stop asking about criminal history during the application process. Many formerly incarcerated are hampered by preconceived notions about their record and not given the opportunity to showcase their abilities and prove they have been rehabilitated. Studies show that they are more likely to be hired if they are given an interview before asking about their criminal history.

In addition to private businesses, many states and the federal government have removed inquiry into an applicant’s criminal background until after an interview or a job offer. The government also requires that subcontractors verify that they also do not screen for criminal background at the beginning of the application process. Now the movement is spreading to college campuses with the “Beyond the Box” initiative.

An estimated 3.2 percent of the United States population is under the supervision of the correctional system. This includes not only the incarcerated, but those on probation, on parole or participating in alternatives to incarceration. One of the major reasons for this is the recidivism rate of the formerly incarcerated, due in large part to violations of the terms of their release.

Over the last several years, advocates and public officials have taken a multi-prong approach to not only keeping people from entering prison, but to also reduce the number of people who return. Lack of opportunities for housing, employment and education are key factors in both prevention as well as reducing recidivism.

A 2013 study of college admissions staff showed that 61 percent of colleges collected criminal history information on applicants, with 35 percent of them having denied admission to an otherwise qualified candidate based on that information. The most common reason for doing so was to reduce campus violence. They were also more reluctant to admit students with a criminal history than universities who did not collect this information.

Now the U.S. Department of Education is urging colleges to end the practice of collecting information on past convictions. There has been a dramatic increase in requesting this information in recent years in response to several high profile violent incidences on campus. Studies have shown that many people that would check yes are discouraged from applying (or completing the application process), even though they would pose no safety threat to the school. Furthermore, the vast majority of college violence is perpetrated by students who do not have a criminal record.

It should also be noted that universities and colleges that do not inquire about criminal history have not reported higher incidences of violence.

There are also more programs that are focusing on alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders. So while these individuals will indeed have a felony conviction on their record, they will have not been incarcerated nor would they be a threat.

Going “beyond the box” could also increase diversity. A disproportionate number of the 70 million Americans with criminal records are African-American and Latino. Starting as early as elementary school, many young people will end up in the system due to unfair zero tolerance policies and racial disparities in punishment. Yet, even for those who are able to turn their lives around, their opportunities to further their education could be stymied by checking yes.

While the push from the Obama Administration is more suggestion than policy, it coincides with the Department of Justice’s recent announcement of the Roadmap to Reentry initiative. The goal is to reduce recidivism by developing a reentry plan from the moment they are convicted. They are asking governors to join them in creating programs that would provide mental health treatment, drug addiction treatment, family reunification, as well as educational and job training opportunities during and after incarceration.

Banning the box on college applications could be a huge step towards creating more hopeful future and ending the cycle of recidivism.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

45 comments

Elisa F
Elisa F4 months ago

Thanks for sharing!

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hillabout a year ago

Do we really want rapists and murderers in our colleges? What about rewarding our smart well behaved young people (and not so young too)?

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Cabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Joon m.
Past Member 1 years ago

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Past Member 1 years ago

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Carole R.
Carole R1 years ago

Thanks for posting.

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Peggy B.
Peggy B1 years ago

It's not colleges business what a person's past history is. Geez, what is the US coming to?

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Veronica Danie
.1 years ago

Thank You!

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