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Louisiana becomes first state to 'ban the box' on college applications

One mistake can cost you dearly. If you had it to do over again, you might take a different direction, walk a better path, and that choice would change the way your life is going. If you are one of the many people in Louisiana with a criminal record, you already know how hard a conviction will make it for you to succeed. For years to come, it may seem like everywhere you go, your record is a roadblock that keeps you in the same place.

In many cases, a major roadblock to success, with or without a criminal conviction, is not having enough education. Still, many people with a criminal record see it as a wake-up call, and they resolve to turn around, get an education and make something positive of their lives. Until recently, that choice was easier said than done.

How a criminal record stifles your opportunities

Nearly 70 percent of colleges across the country require applicants to disclose whether they have a criminal record. About a third of those colleges report denying student applications based on that disclosure. Additionally, two-thirds of college applicants don't even bother completing their applications when they have to check the box admitting to a criminal record. The website Common App, which allows students to apply to multiple colleges through a single process, includes the question about felony convictions on the application used by over four million college hopefuls.

A growing number of people now understand that, for the purpose of applying for college, questions about criminal background are unfair and result in unnecessary negative consequences, including:

  • If you have a criminal conviction, you are less likely to even consider applying for college if such an application means revealing your conviction.
  • If you have a felony record, you are more likely to re-offend without an education.
  • Closing doors to a college education may increase the need for more tax-funded rehabilitation programs.
  • Questions about criminal convictions affect African-Americans more frequently, just as studies have shown that African-Americans are disproportionately targeted by police for minor criminal offenses such as marijuana crimes.

Nationwide efforts have been made to have the felony record checkbox removed from college applications. So far, Louisiana is the only state to ban the criminal conviction box on public university applications.

Protecting your future

Other states hesitate to admit convicted felons to universities because there is fear that admitting people with criminal records might create unsafe environments for students. In response to that concern, the new law in Louisiana still requires anyone convicted of stalking or violent sexual crimes to report their convictions on their college applications.

While Louisiana may open the door for more people to seek a college education, the same may not be true with regard to potential employers and other opportunities in your future. A criminal conviction on your record may still be a stumbling block on many paths you wish to pursue. The best alternative is to make every effort to avoid a criminal conviction by enlisting the advocacy of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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