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(a) Around the country, individuals are often plagued by old or minor arrest or conviction records that discourage them from applying for educational opportunities because a “box” on the application requires disclosure of criminal history information that may exclude them from consideration. Research indicates that the collection and use of criminal history information in the application process for post-secondary institutions constitutes a formidable barrier for many individuals with criminal records. Specifically, data suggests that pre-admission inquiries for prior felony convictions is associated with application attrition on college applications.
(b) The federal government and the higher education industry have acknowledged this problem. In 2016, the Obama Administration encouraged higher education institutions throughout the country to take the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge to develop practices to provide formerly incarcerated individuals with a fair shot at educational opportunities. Similarly, the United States Department of Education released a resource guide titled “Beyond the Box,” which provided information for colleges to examine and remove barriers to pursuing a higher education for citizens with criminal records. Several postsecondary educational institutions have voluntarily removed questions about criminal history from their admissions procedures, and The Common Application, Inc., has announced that it will soon allow its member institutions to omit criminal history questions from their applications.
(c) In California, it is estimated that approximately eight million Californians have been arrested or convicted. Thousands of people in our local community are directly impacted by barriers to full reintegration into society based on these records. Pre-admission inquiries into prior felony convictions also magnify racial disparities in the criminal justice system, resulting in a particularly negative impact on applicants of color seeking admission to post-secondary educational institutions.
(d) Because a post-secondary education is a key to labor market success, policies that increase educational opportunities for people with arrest and conviction records reduce recidivism, promote the financial stability of our communities, and enhance the City’s potential for economic growth. Policies that encourage reintegration and reduce recidivism can also help reduce criminal justice costs. The San Francisco Sheriff’s Office predicts it will spend approximately $90,000 to incarcerate persons in jail in 2017-2018. When a person successfully reintegrates and does not return to the criminal justice system, these costs are avoided, allowing scarce public dollars to be reinvested in programs that make our communities stronger and safer.
(e) Many cities and counties in the United States, including San Francisco, have regulated inquiries into criminal history in other contexts, such as in housing and employment decisions. In the higher education context as well, San Francisco should lead the nation in curbing such inquiries. By addressing roadblocks in the pathways to achieving a higher education, this Article 50 will support individuals that have paid their debt to society and served their sentences by assuring them an equal chance to learn and thrive in society. Prohibiting pre-admission inquiries on college applications will provide youth and adults who have been subject to the criminal justice system a fair chance to realize their full potential and become contributing members of society. Given these considerations, it is wise public policy – in the context of the criminal justice system, public health and safety, and the economy – to improve access to post-secondary institutions for individuals with prior arrest or conviction records.
(Added by Ord. 308-18, File No. 181002, App. 12/21/2018, Eff. 1/21/2019, Oper. 8/1/2019)