Criminal History Disclosure During College Application
Since 2017, at least 16 states have considered legislation to modify or eliminate requirements for public postsecondary institutions to require inquiries related to initial admissions applications. Seven of these states including California, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, Oregon, Virginia and Washington have enacted legislation that addresses the use of a criminal history question during the college admissions process. In some states such as Delaware and Oklahoma, legislation to remove questions about an applicant’s criminal history is part of larger ‘Ban the Box’ policies that also include employment applications.
Louisiana was the first state to prohibit higher education institutions from inquiring about potential student’s criminal history during the college application process in 2017. The legislation, like bills in others states, contains exceptions for inquiries related to certain crimes such as sexual assault and stalking. Institutions are also still able to inquire about criminal history during applications for institutional financial aid and on-campus housing. Maryland passed additional legislation in 2021 that authorized higher education institutions to develop processes for determining on-campus residencies for students convicted of certain crimes including sex crimes. In most states, bans on inquiring about a criminal history only apply to public institutions. However, Oregon’s legislation, passed in 2021, includes provisions that apply to private institutions operating in the state as well.
State Programs to Boost Access, Improve Data Collection, and Promote Workforce and Job Training
Several states have also created or modified programs to support expanded access to postsecondary education for students involved in the correctional system.
State legislators have worked to collect, publish, and share data around education programs for incarcerated students or create working groups to examine how systems can promote education opportunities for students. In 2019, Tennessee passed HB 1303 that requires the Department of Correction to publish an annual report detailing higher education opportunities available to incarcerated individuals in the state. The report must include the number of eligible individuals and opportunities available at each correctional facility as well as developing a plan to promote degree or credential attainment for at least 10% of the eligible incarcerated individuals by 2025. In 2021, Connecticut passed HB 6402 which establishes a task force to examine the creation of a Postsecondary Prison Education Program Office within the Department of Correction.
States have also passed legislation to promote and develop specific workforce and job training programs for incarcerated students. Florida passed legislation in 2019 to allow the state department of corrections to create a Prison Entrepreneurship Program. The program allows in-prison instruction in coordination with both higher education institutions and relevant workforce partners. Maryland SB 800, passed in 2021, created an Inmate Training and Job Pilot Program at postsecondary education institutions for people in the 12 months preceding their release from incarceration. The program includes development of coursework, support services and an individualized plan for educational outcomes.