Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone deserves a second chance. But people who have gotten into trouble in the past and are trying to better themselves by pursuing higher education face a major barrier: a box they must check disclosing their criminal history on college applications. By requiring applicants to disclose their criminal history, universities like James Madison University impose an unnecessary and discriminatory barrier to education. This process reduces the applicant to the mere moment when they incurred a criminal record rather than seeing them as a whole person with all of their interests, skills and experiences. Asking about criminal history on college applications is not a practice grounded in empirical evidence and does not promote public safety in any way. Further, studies show that college education during or after prison helps individuals reintegrate into society and reduces the chance they will end up back in prison. While the national recidivism rate is 43.4%, that number drops to 5.6% if an individual has a bachelor’s degree. James Madison University should be doing everything it can to promote access to higher education, not creating more barriers.
Recognizing the injustice of this practice, a movement is growing to “ban the box” that requires individuals to disclose their criminal history when applying for education or jobs. James Madison University can and must follow suit.
Therefore, we, the Students for Sensible Drug Policy, insist that James Madison University provides an application that does not include the discriminatory “box” nor ask applicants any question(s) pertaining to past adjudication, guilt, or conviction of a misdemeanor, felony, or other prior offense.