ALBANY, NY (09/16/2016)(readMedia)-- "Have you been convicted of a felony?" That question, with its "yes" and "no" boxes to check, will no longer be included on applications for admission to schools in the State University of New York (SUNY) system. The New York State Defenders Association (NYSDA) welcomes SUNY's action, part of a growing "ban the box" movement to end perpetual stigmatization of people who, having completed a felony sentence, nonetheless face life-long barriers to education and employment.
Public defense lawyers observe daily the human and fiscal costs of policies that prevent individuals from moving beyond their status as convicted felons. Recidivism driven by lack of opportunities to become productive members of their families, communities, and society brings some clients back into the system. NYSDA applauds SUNY for taking an important step in providing a chance for those with a criminal record to better themselves, to the benefit of all.
NYSDA also recognizes and applauds the ongoing work of the Center for Community Alternatives (CCA) in bringing about changes like the SUNY vote. Six years ago, CCA, with which NYSDA works closely on many issues, published "The Use of Criminal History Records in College Admissions Reconsidered." That report set out a number of reasons why use of criminal justice information by institutions of higher learning is problematic. Last year, as noted in a post on the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, CCA completed a case study of SUNY, "Boxed Out: Criminal History Screening and College Application Attrition," that was referred to in the SUNY trustees' recent resolution. [CCA Senior Policy Fellow and Founder Marsha Weissman is a member of NYSDA's Board.]
As the biggest comprehensive system of higher education in the country, SUNY now shines not only as a beacon of hope for New Yorkers seeking to take the educational road out of their past, but also as an example nationally for systems large and small. Media coverage of SUNY's action has been extensive, including articles from the New York Times and The Atlantic, more regional coverage including stories on WHAM (Rochester), WIBV.com (Buffalo), and NYup.com, and internet posts such as the one on The Marshall Project.
The SUNY press release announcing the change states that the revised policy will be implemented over the next year and should become system-wide in the 2018 admissions cycle. Under the policy, students will be asked to declare a prior felony conviction only after admission, when "they seek campus housing or participation in clinical or field experiences, internships, or study abroad programs."