Most colleges and universities in the U.S. include a check box on their applications that reads, “Check if you’ve ever been convicted of a felony,” or “Check if you’ve ever been convicted of a crime.”
The same applies to many schools in Illinois, including Columbia. School admissions claim to ask for this information on applications for students’ protection and safety, but the reality is that this question has the potential to hold ex-convicts back from pursuing an education and improving their life after rehabilitation.
On January 1, 2015, the Ban the Box law went into effect in Illinois, prohibiting employers from asking about a potential employee’s criminal background on applications or during the early recruiting process. This requires employers to consider applications regardless of criminal background, but still allows employers to reject a candidate during background checks.
Ban the Box started within job applications as a movement to give ex-convicts a chance to get jobs, and it should be expanded to college admission processes.
According to a Nov. 21 Chicago Tribune article, several schools in Illinois still ask the question, including Northwestern, all University of Illinois’ campuses, Illinois State, Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois, Governors State, DePaul and Columbia.
In a Dec. 6 email statement sent to The Chronicle, Senior Director of Enrollment Derek Brinkley said, “It’s important that everyone knows that just because a student marks ‘yes’ to either question, it does not mean that we deny all of those students. In fact, it’s very rare that a student who checks the ‘yes’ box is denied admission as long as they are otherwise qualified.”
Regardless, this question is unjust and colleges, including Columbia, should ban the box to decrease recidivism and give ex-convicts a chance to pursue the education they desire.
According to the same Tribune article, Chicago resident Chico Tillmon was in prison for 16 years. Upon his release, he applied to Northeastern Illinois University because the application did not require him to disclose past felony convictions.
After attending Northeastern, Tillmon went on to become a community advocate in Chicago neighborhoods with high violence rates as the director of Youth Safety and Violence Prevention at YMCA of Metro Chicago.
If someone has gone through the prison system and has been rehabilitated, they should not be held back from pursuing a better life. The point of prison should be rehabilitation, not holding inmates in the past.
According to a Nov. 26 Chicago Sun-Times article, “The states of Washington, Louisiana and Maryland have passed laws prohibiting their public colleges from including the question.”
According to an Aug. 10 article by The Atlantic, the Common Application, a nonprofit organization that provides access to the college admission process, will also stop asking student applicants to disclose past criminal records starting in 2019.
Pursuing a degree can lead to outstanding careers, as evidenced by Tillmon’s experience, but that is only possible when former inmates are given the chance to receive an education. Columbia and the state of Illinois must ban the box on college applications.