People who are returning home after incarceration have paid their debt to society, yet still face more than 550 barriers to supporting themselves and their families in Connecticut. By banning the box on college applications, S.B. 923 would help to remove one barrier to higher education for people who are living with a record of arrest or conviction.
On February 16, 2023, ACLU of Connecticut Smart Justice leader Brittany LaMarr testified in support of S.B. 923 during its public hearing in the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee. The following is her testimony:
Senator Slap, Representative Haddad, Ranking Members Kelly and Haines, and distinguished members of the Higher Education Committee:
My name is Brittany LaMarr, and I am a Smart Justice Leader with the ACLU-CT, Assistant Director of the National Prison Debate League, and chair of the Program and Delivery Models Workgroup for the New England Commission on the Future of Higher Education Behind Bars. I am a mother, homeowner, dual degree MPP and JD Candidate at Uconn Law, and I am also formerly incarcerated. I am writing to testify in support of Senate Bill 923, An Act Prohibiting the Consideration of Criminal History During the Admissions Process at an Institution of Higher Education or Private School or by an Educational or Apprenticeship Programs.
Education provided me the only opportunity for a new path during my incarceration. I had the opportunity to take higher education in prison courses while incarcerated through the Quinnipiac / Trinity Prison College Program. It was through my classes and mentorship from my professors that I felt hope and saw an opportunity for myself, knowing I faced a very uphill battle when I got home as someone with a criminal conviction. Throughout my incarceration I had written letters connecting with and engaging in dialogue with professors at UConn. It was ultimately those correspondence relationships that provided me with a solid enough letter of recommendation for my application to UConn, to counter the criminal history I had to disclose. I would have been very hesitant to apply if I did not have anyone in my corner and only my criminal history as supporting documentation. Four years later, I am working on my third degree from UConn, this time at UConn Law. Everyone deserves the opportunity to pursue higher education and a career pathway.
There will be full restoration of Pell in the very near future and while I have worked in partnership with all 6 New England States and their Department of Corrections to identify program and delivery models for higher education in prison, we will have many more universities and colleges looking to provide these programs due to the funding they will soon be able to receive. As we expand access to higher education in prison, it only makes sense that those same opportunities exist when a person leaves prison.
While we have much more work to do in eliminating the barriers to successful re-entry, we can take a very easy step towards removing one of them when we pass this bill.