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Princeton group questions student criminal records check

13 MAR 2014

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From time to time, colleges face scrutiny over whether they are aware of the criminal backgrounds of prospective students. The 2004 murder of a University of North Carolina at Wilmington student by a classmate who had attacked women before, for example, led to a lawsuit that led the UNC system to require its campuses to conduct criminal background checks on students whose records suggested possible risks.

Princeton University is having a different sort of debate. The university, through the Common Application, asks applicants whether they have a criminal background. A campus group – Students for Prison Education and Reform – is organising a petition drive urging Princeton to stop using that question.

“The United States criminal justice system is inequitable and ineffective. In light of the racial and economic discrimination perpetuated by US justice institutions, we believe that past involvement with the justice system should not be used to evaluate personal character or academic potential. We call upon Princeton University to remove the question about past involvement with the justice system from applications for undergraduate admission,” says the petition.

Not only is asking the question unfair, the group argues, but it may limit an important kind of diversity on Princeton’s campus.

“Individuals with past involvement with the justice system would bring distinct perspectives to Princeton,” the group says. “Approximately one-quarter of US adults have a criminal record. A lack of interaction with this stigmatized population fosters deep misunderstandings about the nature of the criminal justice system and those affected by it. We believe that by eliminating questions related to past involvement with the justice system, Princeton can open the door to increased diversity of experience and perspective among the student body without compromising its academic quality or moral character.”

The group further argues that there is no compelling evidence that those with a criminal past are more likely than others to commit crimes. And others question whether those with a criminal past report themselves anyway.

 

Read full article: Times Higher Education