Phi Beta Cons

A “Fair Chance” — for Campus Crime?

Last month, the Obama administration held a White House ceremony to launch its new “Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge.” Representatives of 15 higher educational institutions were in attendance, and it was reported that 25 such schools have signed on as the initial participants in this program.

Simply put, these schools promise to reduce barriers to admissions for convicted and now-released felons, helping them to get a fresh start and to build a new life based on education. There is fine print that gives the colleges a lot of wiggle room on if, when, and how they actually question these applicants about their criminal history, but the goal of the initiative is clear — to lower admissions barriers, admit more former felons, and contribute thereby to society. 

Out of curiosity, though, I looked up recidivism rates for convicted and released felons, and found that the statistics compiled by the National Institute of Justice might give these 25 schools some pause for further thought.

The Institute reports here that 68% of all released offenders are re-arrested within three years of release, and fully 77% within five years. Additionally, re-arrest rates are high for all major types of crime: 82% for property offenders, 77% for drug offenders, and 71% for violent offenders. If I were working in a college or university admissions office today, and my school had signed on to the pledge, I would have real concerns about whether admitting these offenders is really a very good idea.

I suppose the argument can be made that education will reduce recidivism among those admitted to institutions of higher learning, but the starting point is exceedingly high, and even a 50% reduction in recidivism rates would still result in about a third of these admitted students to be at risk for re-arrest for additional crimes. 

We have heard much about making campuses a “safe space” for students, protecting them from horrible things like free speech and differing opinions. Might these students be exposed to real threats to their safety as a result of this program?

Vic Brown had a thirty-year career in the chemical industry with FMC Corporation, where he held senior positions and worked internationally in sales, marketing, manufacturing, information technology and procurement.

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