All people, including those who have been convicted or accused of a crime, should have an equal opportunity to build successful and fulfilling lives. All people deserve to live their lives without barriers to being happy and productive residents. S.B. 923 is a step toward that goal for people seeking higher education after a record of arrest or conviction.
On February 16, 2023, ACLU of Connecticut Smart Justice leader William Roberts testified in support of S.B. 923 during its public hearing in the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee. The following is his testimony:
Senator Slap, Representative Haddad, Ranking Members Kelly and Haines, and distinguished members of the Higher Education Committee:
My name is William Roberts, and I am Leader with the ACLU of Connecticut Smart Justice campaign. I am testifying 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.
I believe in a society where all people, including those who have been convicted or accused of a crime, should have an equal opportunity to build successful and fulfilling lives. All people deserve to live their lives without barriers to being happy and productive residents.
But rather than support people with criminal records to thrive in their communities, Connecticut law barricades them from education opportunities, employment, and essential social services. Nationwide, 60 to 80 percent of private higher education institutions and 55 percent of public higher education institutions require undergraduate applicants to answer criminal history questions. This includes 40 percent of community colleges. Less than 2 in 5 colleges that require disclosure of criminal records instruct their admissions staff on how to interpret the information they receive from students. In Connecticut, some public universities ask about prospective students’ criminal legal system involvement. Simply asking about convictions is a barrier: in one study, two-thirds of applicants with records who were asked to disclose their records never completed their applications.
When I chose to go to college I felt that Manchester Community College was the best place for me. Upon registration I was immediately hit with my first barrier. I had no transcripts even though I had graduated high school. DCF had not given me my diploma or transcripts when I left my residential placement. After finally securing a copy of my diploma and complete the registration; was accepted and I even made it on the Deans several semesters. It was there that I ran into my second barrier. I was called down to the deans office in the middle of class one day where I was accused of not telling the administration I was a formerly incarcerated person and currently on probation. The administration then locked me out of my online records immediately. I could no longer see my grades online; register for classes online; and before each semester I had to have my probation officer contact the school to say that I was still in compliance with the law. Only then could I register classes with someone inside the office and pick my classes. By the time this usually happened the new semester was only days away, sometimes the next day and the secretary had to use her own name as a placeholder while waiting for the administration to get around to fully registering me for the semester. Its because of this I couldn’t take the classes I need as most classes were always filled by the time I could register due to not having access to register online. Before I could finish my last semester with only five classes left to get my degree; I was arrested by Hartford Police. I spent a month going back and forth to court. I could not finish my semester due to the pending court case. Although my case was dismissed by the judge due to Hartford Police having no probable cause to have arrested me; I immediately became homeless. I never went back to get my degree. I was tired of how they treated me and how society kept treating me. That is why I am here today. Why I continue to come here year after year. To continue to break and destroy these barriers set before us.
So I strongly urge passage of Senate Bill 923 to create a more just and equitable Connecticut.