New Jersey already has a "Ban the Box" law that prohibits employers from asking a job applicant about their criminal history.

Soon a similar type of Ban the Box provision could be added to college applications in the Garden State.

Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, D-Mercer, is sponsoring a measure, A3869, that would stop colleges and universities in New Jersey from asking individuals applying for admission about their criminal history as an adult or a juvenile.

She said if someone has served time behind bars and is trying to turn their life around, and part of that effort involves a plan to try to go to college, “the last thing we want to do is re-penalize them for a crime that they have already served their time for and now they’re back in the community and they’re looking toward higher education.”

It makes a difference

Reynolds-Jackson said almost two-thirds of prospective students who have a conviction do not complete their applications after answering “yes” to the criminal history question.

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She stressed it’s important for those trying to re-join society to have a real shot at doing so.

“We’re talking about workforce development, we’re talking about creating careers and not just jobs, and you can do that through higher education if you’re allowed access,” she said.

She said if asking about a person’s criminal history as part of an initial college application deters some individuals from moving forward we need to ask ourselves: “Are we really trying to help people re-enter our communities and our society and better themselves if we’re still stopping them at the door.”

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Other states are doing it

She noted several states, including California, Louisiana, Maryland, and Washington have already approved bans on asking applying students about their criminal histories.

“We want people to have the opportunity to apply, possibly be accepted conditionally, and be able to improve their lives through higher education,” she stressed.

Reynolds-Jackson pointed out the criminal history question ban would not apply in situations if particularly egregious crimes such as murder, sexual assault, kidnapping, and human trafficking had been committed.

She said only after accepting an applicant could an institution ask about their criminal history, for the purpose of offering supportive counseling services as well as making decisions about a student’s participation in university life.

The legislation also calls for the creation of a Universal College Application Development Task Force, which would be responsible for developing a standard universal college admission application.

She noted the provisions of the bill would not apply to an application for admission to law school.

The measure has been referred to the Assembly Higher Education Committee for consideration.

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