Louisiana Becomes First State to Ban Criminal-History Question on College Applications

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Gov. John Edwards recently signed House Bill 688 into law making Louisiana the first state in the nation to ban criminal-history questions on college applications. (Twitter/Courtesy of VOTE)

Louisiana has become the first state to ban all of its public college and universities from asking admissions applicants about their criminal history.

The legislation was signed into law on Friday, June 15, by Gov. John Edwards. Proponents of the law say such questions often discourage applicants with troubled backgrounds from pursuing higher education.

The law, however, does make exceptions so that colleges can inquire about aggravated sexual assault or stalking convictions, though there is an appeals process if an applicant is denied based on the exception, according to local TV station WVUE Fox 8 in New Orleans. The law also does not prevent a college from asking about a student’s criminal history after he or she has been admitted in regards to financial aid or campus housing.

“What research shows is that two out of three people with convictions that want to go to college when they start the application and they see the question, they stop,” Annie Freitas, program director with the Louisiana Prison Education Coalition, told the TV station.

The mission of the so-called “ban the box” movement, in reference to the criminal-history question often found on applications next to a check mark box, is to help people with criminal histories successfully re-enter society after incarceration.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education under President Barack Obama asked colleges to voluntarily remove criminal-history questions from their applications. Some public university systems such as New York’s and California’s and a few private colleges have complied, according to National Public Radio.

But Louisiana became the first to do so statewide.

A study conducted in 2009 by the Center for Community Alternatives examined 273 institutions and found that 66 percent collect criminal-history information. Less than half of them that collect and use such information, it found, have a written policy and only 40 percent of those institutions train staff to interpret the data.

“A sizable minority [38 percent] of the responding schools does not collect or use criminal justice information and those schools do not report that their campuses are less safe as a result,” the study stated.

 

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