Past crimes a barrier to further education

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Cutting criminal records from university applications is a good step forward to putting rehabilitation back into the correctional system.

The Obama administration is trying to eliminate barriers for those with a criminal history wishing to pursue higher education by encouraging postsecondary institutions to push requests for criminal records until after their admissions process is complete.

While most Canadian undergraduate programs don’t ask for a criminal record as part of an application, it’s not uncommon for graduate schools to request a police check, including the Queen’s School of Medicine.

People from racialized and low-income communities — especially black teenagers — are disproportionately targeted by the justice system in the United States. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, Black people form about 13 percent of the American population and yet they make up approximately 40 percent of the prison population. 

Demographics that are unequally targeted by the justice system are thereby also at a higher risk of being denied higher education if schools continue to reject applicants with criminal records. 

Removing criminal records from university applications is a move in the right direction because it erases one systematic barrier in a series of obstacles to proper rehabilitation.

Evidence of these kinds of rehabilitation efforts already exist on campus, such as Queen’s Students for Literacy which encourages student volunteers to help foster reading and literacy skills among prison inmates.

It seems hypocritical that these programs recognize the importance of education in rehabilitating inmates, but that universities still limit their pursuit of higher education. Fostering volunteer initiatives that stir a passion for learning among inmates while also barring them from university education only serves to make certain levels of education exclusive to specific areas of society.

A reason for requesting criminal checks for graduate programs such as medical school is simply to ensure trust in society’s professionals. Doctors are among professionals who treat us in our most vulnerable state, so it makes sense to be safe.

However, the universities’ responsibility is to provide an education, not to judge what type of person deserves one.

We should only require a criminal background check if there is data to prove that admitting those with a criminal history poses a risk to student safety. If such a correlation doesn’t exist, there’s no reason to limit someone’s ability to better themselves after the criminal justice system has told them to do just that. 

Journal Editorial Board

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