These days, American colleges are eager to boast about their number of women enrollees, their percentage of ethnic minorities, even their ratio of low-income students. They’re very proud of their inclusiveness and outreach. But many colleges are mum when it comes to the students on their campuses with criminal records.
To be fair, it’s a very delicate issue, one that requires reassuring students and parents that safety has not been compromised while also ensuring that some students with records are not singled out or treated differently. Finding that balance has proved elusive for some colleges, but others have successfully untangled the complexities created by this increasingly common phenomenon. At hundreds of colleges, students have to disclose any criminal history during the admissions process and may be prescreened by a special committee. A quick online search yields multiple websites—like the one at the University of Colorado, Boulder—with guidelines for admissions for students with criminal records. At some schools, a formerly incarcerated student’s movements on campus and his or her access to facilities may be restricted. At a number of colleges and universities, students who have committed certain crimes may be jointly monitored by campus authorities and state officials. The measures are set up based on state requirements, school policy, and the institution’s comfort level.
“It’s just incredibly stigmatizing,” said Emily NaPier, the director of justice strategies at the Center for Community Alternatives, which conducts research in this area. She said that some students with records complain that some schools “don’t allow them to live on campus housing,” “some have a probation period,” and others “have some level of tracking and surveillance regarding their grades.” NaPier added that the center is also aware of schools that require students with criminal records “to sign a declaration that they will only come to campus for classes and will not participate in any extracurricular activity on campus, that they will not linger on campus, that they will not be on campus for any other reason other than classes.”