'Ban the Box' bill opens door to higher education for ex-cons

BATON ROUGE -- Public Louisiana colleges will no longer screen applicants for their criminal history, except for sexual assault.

House Bill 688, better known as the "Ban the Box" bill, passed the House on June 5 and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The bill prohibits public colleges from asking questions about criminal history, except for sexual assault, in admissions. According to lawmakers, a recent study found that 2-out-of-3 people that have a criminal history do not finish their college application after being asked that question.

The "Ban the Box" bill encourages more people with convictions to finish the application process and access higher education opportunities.

Rep. Vincent Pierre (D-Lafayette) filed the bill after hearing Syrita Steib testify about her personal challenges in pursuing a college degree.

“Nine years ago, I was denied entrance into a public postsecondary institution because of my criminal history," Steib said. "While there is still work to be done, this bill is a necessary first step to ensuring that people with convictions are able to access higher education."

Rep. Ted James (D-Baton Rouge), co-author of the bill, said “We are working to increase opportunities for all citizens of Louisiana, but especially those who hope to leave mistakes of the past behind them and move forward."

James added that anyone seeking to rehabilitate and better themselves should not be kept from doing so.

"Criminal history should not hinder a person from achieving any academic dream or desire," he said. "With HB 688 in effect we will open doors for those seeking to start anew.”

“About a million people are living with a criminal conviction in Louisiana, some went to prison, most did not, but all of them deserve access to education and the opportunity to live meaningful lives,” says Annie Freitas, program director of the Louisiana Prison Education Coalition (LPEC). The Coalition began when a number of committed organizations and individuals began assessing the specific needs of Louisiana’s forgotten people, who generally struggle alone to navigate their pathways into higher education.

Governor John Bel Edwards is expected to sign the education bill.

© 2017 WWL-TV


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