More Colleges Commit to the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge

By Wayne Taliaferro

In September 2016, 61 higher education institutions and systems signed the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge, a White House initiative to reduce barriers to admission for individuals with prior involvement in the criminal justice system. The latest group to sign on represents 172 campuses that enroll 1.8 million students, adding to the inaugural group of 25 institutions that signed on in June.

These commitments are a strong step toward fair, equitable treatment for ex-offenders, who are often locked out of opportunities due to collateral consequences from criminal convictions. There is considerable evidence that access to educational opportunities (including postsecondary opportunities) during and after incarceration helps reduce recidivism and lead to stable employment. Unfortunately, people who have been incarcerated continue to face barriers.

A survey by the Center for Community Alternatives found that two-thirds of postsecondary institutions ask about applicants’ criminal histories. Of those two-thirds, only a quarter do not use that information as a basis for denying admission. There is no significant evidence to suggest screening improves campus safety; however, there is evidence to imply that screening procedures are biased against communities of color, particularly African American men. This diminishes access and runs counter to the democratizing mission of higher education. Nearly 70 million people in the U.S. have a criminal record, and approximately 600,000 are released from prison each year. These individuals face destabilizing challenges in education, employment, housing, and other areas of individual and family security, limiting their options and increasing their chances of recidivism.

The Obama Administration has tackled these challenges head on, working to realize justice through comprehensive policy reform as well as implementing best practices. The institutions signing on to the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge are an important part of that momentum.

CLASP is excited to join the call for justice. On October 28, we will explore the intersection between criminal justice reform and education and employment opportunities at a public forum in Washington, D.C.  “Reconnecting Justice: Pathways to Effective Reentry though Education and Training” will convene a diverse group of experts to critically examine education and training opportunities for incarcerated adults as well as strategies to improve pathways to economic success upon reentry. We hope you will register to attend in person or watch live via webcast.

With over 2.2 million Americans incarcerated, the time to act is now.