DE lawmakers push ending criminal history checks in college enrollment process, providing many a second chance at an education
DELAWARE – A shot at a second chance.
That opportunity could become a reality for those in Delaware seeking a higher education, as SB13 would prohibit public and private institutions in the first state from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history for enrollment.
“If they’re going to have success in re-entry, they need access to resources and to opportunity. We as a state and country have a terrible habit of continuing to punish people after they’ve served their time,” Primary Sponsor Delaware Senator Marie Pinkney said.
“We’re actually talking about enriching the college experience. Allowing more of those students to be able to get those opportunities without their past criminal or juvenile offenses holding them back,” ALCU Delaware’s Executive Director Mike Brickner said.
Advocates say this legislation opens up opportunities for individuals to change their narrative, potentially preventing recidivism. “If we give them a conviction and then we say that conviction is going to follow you for the rest of your life, it’s a life sentence. So without opportunities they’re more likely to go back to illegal activities,” Bricker said.
“Essentially we are telling this person one we don’t value you, number two we don’t value or believe in your ability to change, and number three that we are going to do everything that we can to keep you on that same path that got you where you are,” Sen. Pinkney said.
Delaware Technical Community College is an open admission institution that doesn’t ask for criminal history on applications currently.
They do have the ability to inquire about offenses that pose a concern for programs requiring a license or certification. “Nursing students will spend a large part of their time in the hospital actually doing patient care. We call that clinicals,” General Counsel for Delaware Tech’s Brian Shirey said.
“In early childhood education they go to daycare centers. So there are certain industry and facilities by law you need to have a background check before you can go in there.”
Much of the debate around the bill concerns safety, which lawmakers say they’re addressing as institutions may still inquire about offenses related to sexual assault. “We get community notifications when a student is a sex offender and we’ll know that. We’ll meet with that student and develop a plan that protects the college community,” Shirey said.
This bill also wouldn’t allow an institution to rescind an offer for admission if they learn about an applicant’s criminal background. Yet, the institution could limit a student’s participation on campus life or offer counseling or other supportive services.
The legislation now heads to the state House for consideration.