We All Benefit When Former Offenders Get a Fair Shot at College

Many have discussed the obstacles to employment that former offenders face because of the Box: the box on employment applications that asks for disclosure of prior incarceration, augmented by the ease of background checks in the 21st century.  The Box is, practically, a way of persistently, if not permanently, punishing the offender, regardless of the severity of the crime or its implications for future behavior.

The White House has proposed initiatives in the past to deal with these obstacles to employment, such as the Fair Chance Business Pledge:

“The pledge represents a call-to-action for members of the private sector to improve their communities by eliminating barriers for those with a criminal record and creating a pathway for a second chance … Too often, that record disqualifies individuals from being a full participant in their communities – even if they’ve already paid their debt to society.  As a result, millions of Americans have difficulty finding employment. ”

What could be more American than a second chance?

Last week, the White House extended this call with its Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge:

“This [barrier] includes admissions processes for educational institutions that can make it difficult if not impossible for those with criminal records to get an education that can lead to a job.  As President Obama has said, ‘that’s bad not only for those individuals, it’s bad for our economy.  It’s bad for the communities that desperately need more role models who are gainfully employed.  So we’ve got to make sure Americans who’ve paid their debt to society can earn their second chance.’”

As the Wall Street Journal points out, this requires a more nuanced approach to handling the difficult questions that many institutions identify as potential reasons not to admit former offenders:

“It doesn’t call for schools to completely stop checking the criminal records of potential students, acknowledging that schools must take measures to maintain student safety.”

This is a large, albeit unquantified, problem for former offenders:

“It is unclear how many applicants are rejected from colleges or universities because of their criminal records.  The bigger concern, some criminal justice reform advocates say, is that prospective students abandon their applications entirely when they see questions about their criminal histories.  A 2015 Center for Community Alternatives study of applicants to the State University of New York system found that more than 62% of those with felony convictions didn’t complete the application, well above the attrition rate for other applicants.”

This new pledge from colleges and universities may also lead to the extension of post-secondary education to correctional facilities:

“The new program also encourages colleges to dispatch instructors to local correctional facilities.  Cornell University noted in its pledge that it has admitted some formerly incarcerated students who started through the Cornell Prison Education Program, while North Park University in Chicago has been holding courses in a state prison in recent years and aims to be able to admit some of the participants as full students upon their release from prison.”

American Prison Data Systems, PBC can help with the extension of college education to the incarcerated because APDS is a platform for the delivery of a wide spectrum of digital content and services.  Whether it be through the use of the APDS proprietary Learning Management System, or the whitelisting and cleansing of college and university web-based material for correctional delivery, colleges and universities can reach a large audience of incarcerated offenders quickly and safely, all in a manner consistent with the highest levels of security the correctional system may require.



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