Louisiana bans colleges from asking students about criminal records

More than two dozen colleges pledge to drop criminal background questions from applications

Louisiana is the first state in the nation to formally prohibit all public higher ed institutions from asking applicants about their criminal history.

The law to “ban the box” asking about criminal history was passed in June with strong bipartisan support, as the state has the highest incarceration rate in the nation, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

On the national level, more than 70 million people have some sort of criminal record. Institutions in Louisiana can still inquire about criminal history after a student is admitted. Any information obtained at that point can be used to guide decisions about housing and extracurricular activities.

Large state systems in California and New York have already enacted such a ban.

In June 2016, more than two dozen colleges and universities signed the federal Fair Chance Higher Education pledge to drop criminal background questions from applications.

“A high percentage of schools ask for this information as part of the admission process—more than two-thirds—but a surprising number don’t really have formal policies about how they would manage these questions,” says AACRAO Executive Director Michael Reilly.

He expects other states to adopt such measures, although broad-scale implementation may not happen because there is a wide range of opinions about how such information impacts campus safety.

The Louisiana law should encourage colleges and universities in other states to re-evaluate their criminal history policies, Reilly says.

Institutions can reconsider what the questions they ask on applications and how student answers impact admissions decisions. Also worth examining post-admission, he adds, is the role criminal histories will play, if any, in campus safety plans.

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