- Floor Votes
Go to top
NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY
MEMORANDUM IN SUPPORT OF LEGISLATION
submitted in accordance with Assembly Rule III, Sec 1(f)
BILL NUMBER: A8574 SPONSOR: Peoples-Stokes
TITLE OF BILL: An act to amend the correction law and the executive law, in relation to college admission for persons previously convicted of one or more criminal offenses   PURPOSE: Vivian's Law, formally known as The Fair Access to Education Act, is named for Vivian Nixon who experienced the devastating impact of criminal history screening in college admissions. After serving time in prison, Vivian was determined to transform her life, and a college education became central to her goal. The first college to which she applied and for which she was academically well qualified denied her admission based upon criminal history screening. Vivian's college application experience is not unique. A growing number of colleges and universities are screening applicants and erecting barriers to admission for people with past criminal justice involvement despite the fact that there is no evidence that doing so makes college campuses safer. There are many negative consequences that flow from this practice. Access to higher education is highly correlated to economic stability and social mobility It is also linked to reduced recidivism for people with past criminal justice involvement. Moreover, because of the well- documented existence of racial disparities in our criminal justice system, screening applicants for past criminal justice involvement has a disparate impact on applicants of color. As a result, screening college applicants for past arrests and convictions undermines the gains made during the civil rights era to increase higher education opportunities for all people, regardless of their race or ethnicity. This bill will promote enhanced public safety, greater racial fairness, and the economic and social well-being of all New Yorkers by removing the needless barriers to higher education faced by people with past criminal justice involvement.   SUMMARY OF PROVISIONS: The Correction Law would be amended by adding new provisions that explicitly prohibit colleges from asking about or considering applicants' past arrests and/or convictions during the application and admission decision-making process. In addition, a new subdivision would be added to section 296 of the Executive (Human Rights) Law to make it an unlawful discriminatory practice for colleges to ask about or consider prior criminal justice involvement during the application and admission decision-making process. This bill would not prevent colleges from asking about or using informa- tion about past criminal justice involvement once an applicant is admit- ted to make post admission decisions, such as housing and support services. In making such decisions, colleges are urged to consider the reentry benefits of allowing students with past criminal convictions full access to all aspects of college life, as well as the disparate impact on students of color that will necessarily follow if decision- making is based on criminal histories. Long ago, in the landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 493, the United States Supreme Court recognized the critical role that education plays in our society and the importance of ensuring that all people have access to education, stating as follows: (Education) is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foun- dation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awak- ening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later profes- sional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms. This legislation will make the aspirations of Brown v. Board of Educa- tion a reality for people with past criminal justice involvement. Furthermore, it is to the benefit of our great state's economy to have more of its citizens as gainfully employed tax-payers than either re-in- carcerated, or reliant on public assistance because they are unable to compete in our demanding economy. By removing barriers to higher educa- tion, those with past criminal justice involvement will be equipped with the tools necessary to become fully reintegrated into society, in turn strengthening families and the fabric of New York's communities.