All people, including those who have been convicted or accused of a crime, should have equal opportunity to contribute to society and build successful and fulfilling lives. People involved in our criminal legal system who finish their sentences have paid their debt to society. They deserve to live their lives in Connecticut’s communities without barriers to being happy, productive, law abiding residents. But rather than support people with criminal records to thrive in their communities, Connecticut law barricades them from education opportunities. S.B. 923 would begin to change that for people applying to colleges and universities in Connecticut.
On February 16, 2023, ACLU of Connecticut Smart Justice leader Manuel Sandoval testified in support of S.B. 923 during its public hearing in the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee. The following is his testimony:
Hello Senator Slap, Representative Haddad, Ranking Members Kelly and Haines, and distinguished members of the Higher Education Committee:
My name is Manuel Sandoval, and I'm an ACLU Smart Justice Leader and advocate. I am here 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.
The people you serve probably ask, what's so bad about answering a simple question? Or say it's not that bad. Of course, they wouldn't know the trauma and feelings associated with the question unless you've been continually discriminated against. These questions, when asked in any situation, are depleting, defeating, and demoralizing. Not just because the questions are private, or because the person has experienced trauma, but because most of the time the answer "Yes", comes with a “Thank you, but we've decided to go with another candidate.” Or, “Sorry the apartment was rented out by another agent.” Or any other reason you can think of when they tell you "NO." Just imagine how bad that could be if you heard the same thing after attempting to go for higher education.
I can tell you firsthand that answering the question has been one of the most hurtful experiences I've endured. Like I mentioned before, I've lost countless opportunities despite being told, “I was the perfect fit for the position.”
What bearings does having a criminal conviction have on whether we are accepted into higher education? The only criteria a school should consider is whether the student has what it takes to complete their program. Wanting more, wanting to better ourselves, shouldn’t come with stigma. Look at it this way, if I were not wearing this blue shirt you wouldn’t have known I was previously incarcerated. Why because, I would have led with the fact that I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. I have a master’s degree in social work. I want to help people overcome the challenges they face in their lives. However, I am currently being discriminated against now, by our very own government due to my previous criminal conviction.
Why does society insist on hurting one of the most disenfranchised, disengaged, and most vulnerable populations? We are tired of being bruised, tattered and continually oppressed, which does nothing to protect society. But assisting people instead of discriminating against them is protecting and improving all of our communities.
Currently, previously incarcerated people can be fired, left homeless and uneducated because we are not a protected class of people. But people who have served their sentences and have paid their debt to society shouldn’t have to face obstacle after obstacle to improve their lives. We deserve to live in an inclusive community that cares without barriers to living a fulfilling life.
Senate Bill 923 is only but a step forward in the right direction that can begin to improve the lives of previously impacted residents of CT. Prohibiting institutions of higher learning from inquiring about our records will ensure that more previously impacted people continue to seek higher education without having to feel less than. That is why I urge you all to support of Senate Bill 923.
Thank you for your time.