Cephas and Ortitay introduce bipartisan legislation to ‘ban-the-box’ on applications for public colleges and universities
In their ongoing efforts to eliminate obstacles and create higher education opportunities to those who need them most, state Reps. Morgan Cephas, D-Phila., and Jason Ortitay, R-Allegheny/Washington, today introduced legislation to “ban-the-box” on applications for public colleges and universities.
“How do we expect those who paid their debt to society to move forward and better themselves if we allow their criminal past to dictate their future? This reality is especially true in our Black and brown communities,” Cephas said. “Banning the box adds to my fight for real criminal justice reform. It would encourage not discourage formerly incarcerated individuals from wanting to go to college, earn a degree, and enter the workforce with the skills they need to land a good-paying job to support themselves and their family, while significantly decreasing their chances of recidivism.”
During a virtual news conference, Cephas and Ortitay discussed their bipartisan effort (H.B. 2952) that would prevent public colleges or universities in Pennsylvania from inquiring about a student's criminal history, with the exception of certain criminal offenses, on the initial applications or at any other time during the admissions process.
Under their legislation, after a student has been accepted, the university may make such inquiries for the purpose of offering supportive counseling and services, and for making decisions relative to the student’s participation in campus life and determining if the institution will limit such participation.
“Studies have shown that students with a criminal history do not engage in more criminal activity at college than those entering with a clean record,” Ortitay said. “We need to be creating opportunities for college admission instead of erecting barriers. I do recognize that some violent crimes should be disclosed, and colleges should be able to institute safeguards that will allow students to gain a degree and protect public safety at the same time. This legislation strikes that balance.”
“As a formerly incarcerated individual and now a student at Penn State, I know the challenges individuals with a criminal record face when trying to apply for higher education,” said Divine Lipscomb, who plays a role in the Student’s Restorative Justice Initiative at Penn State University. “We need to end the narrative of once a criminal, always a criminal. I commend Representatives Cephas and Ortitay for working together to provide people with the tools they need to move forward and grow.”
The event also featured advocates from Community Legal Services, Americans for Prosperity, Prisons to Professionals, and ReEntry Think Tank.
Other local and national organizations that support the effort include People’s Paper Co-op, Operation Restoration, and UnLock Higher Ed.