Liz Holliday

Communications Specialist

Ithaca Journal, Ban the box for students, too

When I was released from prison in 2001, a fresh start was all I wanted. But it was a simple question on most job and college applications that threatened to dismantle all of my plans for a successful, self-sufficient future far away from the criminal justice system.

I’m talking about “the box,” in which an applicant is forced to self-disclose any criminal convictions by checking a box before they have even had the chance to show their worth as a candidate. For the one in three working age adults who have a criminal history in this country, the box acts as a scarlet letter that turns a past offense into a life sentence.

Recently, Cornell’s Employee Assembly announced the university’s intention to “Ban the Box” by July 1, removing all criminal conviction questions from the preliminary job applications. Cornell joins the City of Ithaca, New York City and more than 100 other cities and counties that have adopted “ban the box” legislation.

I applaud Cornell for banning the box for future employees of the university, but why isn’t it also banning the box on its own admission application? Cornell is one of more than 600 universities nationwide that utilize the Common Application, an application that still uses criminal history check boxes.

A 2015 study done by the Education from the Inside Out Coalition and the Center of Community Alternatives showed that for every applicant rejected by SUNY because of a felony conviction, 15 do not complete their applications due to fear of stigma or a complicated, sometimes impossible set of supplemental requirements. Further, there isno empirical evidence that shows any relationship between asking questions about criminal history and crime on campus — just ask the California State University andCity University of New York systems, since neither asks the questions.

Momentum is growing across the state to ban the box on college applications and remove all unnecessary barriers to higher education for students with criminal histories. Hundreds of students have taken action at New York University and SUNYcampuses this semester, and university leadership is taking notice.

As the executive director of a nonprofit organization that helps formerly incarcerated women achieve a higher education, I can proudly tell you that after 15 years and more than 300 degrees, less than 2 percent of College and Community Fellowship students have gone back to prison. That is compared with the 40 percent of formerly incarcerated New Yorkers who end up back in prison within three years of release.

Education has a proven link to lowering recidivism, increasing self-confidence and empowering individuals with the critical thinking skills necessary to come to terms with their pasts, while focusing on a better future for themselves, their families and their communities.

It’s time that institutions like Cornell stand up for prospective students with a criminal justice past, and realize that every person in this country should have equal access to an education.

http://www.ithacajournal.com/story/opinion/2016/05/06/guest-viewpoint-ban-box/84019388/

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