New Jersey lawmakers have proposed expanding “ban-the-box” type legislation to college applications. Bill A3869, sponsored by Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson and three other members of the state assembly, would prohibit colleges and universities in New Jersey from including questions concerning their criminal history, both as a juvenile or adult, on applications for admission.
This expands on the state’s existing “ban-the-box” law that took effect in 2015, which prohibited employers of 15 or more workers from including questions pertaining to an applicant’s criminal history on any forms during the application process as well as making any inquiries such as background checks until the first interview has been conducted.
According to one of the bill’s sponsors, Mila Jasey, “We know that education is one of the most important tools to rehabilitate ex-offenders, prevent crime, and reduce recidivism.” Though in 2016, many colleges dropped consideration of criminal history from the initial application process, Jasey states that 70% of four-year institutions continue to have a criminal history-related question on their applications. Jasey also states that for colleges that include criminal history-related questions on the initial application, 66% of applicants with criminal convictions will not end up finishing their application.
However, though this bill is focused on college applications, Jasey argues that it should go further to support the reintegration of those with a criminal history and “ban the box” in other areas, including “employment, housing, and education.” Though the legislation would create a comprehensive ban on questions pertaining to most criminal history, it would create an exception for certain serious violent crimes such as sexual assault, murder, kidnapping, and others. It would also make an exception for applications for admission to law schools.
For other crimes and institutions, criminal history inquiries can only be performed after an application for admission is accepted. According to one of the bill’s sponsors, this is so that institutions can offer these students counseling services as well as make educated decisions pertaining to such students’ participation in university life. This would place New Jersey in company with states including Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, and Washington, which have passed similar bans on asking students about their criminal histories.
This bill would also create a Universal College Application Development Task Force that would be tasked with creating a universal college admission application for use by institutions of higher learning in the state. The bill has been referred to the Assembly Higher Education Committee for consideration, and its Senate counterpart is similarly being deliberated on.
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