In 2015, Obama announced that he was calling on all federal agencies to no longer check the criminal history of job applicants.  This “ban the box” move was part of a larger criminal justice reform agenda that is now being extended to the nation’s colleges and universities.

Judicial Watch reports:

The Obama administration has ordered the nation’s colleges and universities to stop asking applicants about criminal and school disciplinary history because it discriminates against minorities. Institutions are also being asked to offer those with criminal records special support services such as counseling, mentoring and legal aid once enrolled. The government’s official term for these perspective students is “justice-involved individuals” and the new directive aims to remove barriers to higher education for the overwhelmingly minority population that’s had encounters with the law or disciplinary issues through high school.

Part of the problem, the Obama administration and opponents of “the box” believe is that asking such questions about criminal or school disciplinary history “disproportionally affects blacks and Latinos.”

The Atlantic explains:

“Students of color are the most likely to be harmed by putting these questions on the application,” said Natalie Sokoloff, professor emerita of sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She conducted a study that looked at the use of (or absence of) the question by two-year and four-year colleges in Maryland, a total of 50 schools. She analyzed all application forms used during one year and concluded that 40 percent included a question about criminal background. “Public four-year and two-year colleges are less likely to ask the question at the state and national level. Places that are more likely to give an opportunity to people with criminal records are two-year public colleges, and places that are least likely are private four-year colleges,” she said.

Sokoloff believes, “These kinds of practices really are de facto forms of race-based discrimination, because people of color are disproportionately impacted by these policies.” Scholars like Sokoloff, reform advocates, and public thinkers often point to the structural racism already at work in school systems—in which the over-disciplining of black children creates a school-to-prison pipeline. So not only are black students more likely to end up in prison than other groups, but once they are released and attempting to break that cycle by applying to college, they are more likely to confront the box—and the conundrum of whether or not to check it.

“This question doesn’t belong on the college-admissions form any more than questions about the weather belong there,” said Barmak Nassirian, current director of policy analysis with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Obama made much the same argument late last year when he announced his plan to “ban the box.”


Not only are the feds concerned with “banning the box,” but they are also urging colleges and universities to take additional steps to provide students with criminal histories a range of support services.

Judicial Watch continues:

Colleges and universities are to take it a step further by offering students with criminal histories special support services. This is to include targeted academic and career guidance as well as counseling, legal aid services, mentoring and coaching. “Institutions should recruit and train peer mentors with previous justice involvement to work with justice-involved students to ensure a smooth transition to postsecondary education and provide support and resources throughout their time at the college or university,” the new directive states. “These peer mentors could begin their work by acting as navigators who help acclimate justice-involved students to the educational institutions.” Perhaps colleges and universities should also start sending recruiters to jails across the country.

In his Rutgers speech (above), Obama urged Congress to pass a law that would require private businesses to “ban the box,” as well.  The Obama administration attempted to enforce this several years ago by having U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sue private companies, including BMW and Dollar GeneralIt didn’t go well.

Judicial Watch explains:

Years ago the administration tried slamming the private sector with a ban on job applicant background checks by claiming that they discriminate against all minority candidates, not just ex-cons. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces the nation’s workplace discrimination laws, wasted taxpayer dollars suing companies for checking criminal histories asserting that it violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The apparent intent was to discourage other businesses from checking criminal histories out of fear of getting sued by the government, but it didn’t quite work out that way. A federal judge eventually blasted the EEOC’s claims, calling them laughable, distorted, cherry-picked, worthless and an egregious example of scientific dishonesty. Of interesting note is that the EEOC conducts criminal background checks as a condition of employment.

This won’t be the last time we hear about efforts to “ban the box.”


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