A.G. Schneiderman Announces Agreements With Three Higher-Education Institutions That Will Help Eliminate Barriers To Learning

St. John’s University, Dowling College And Five Towns College Agree To Evaluate All Applicants Fairly; Stop Asking For Applicants’ Arrest Records

Schneiderman: My Office Is Committed To Ensuring Equal Educational Opportunities For All New Yorkers

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced agreements with St. John’s University, Dowling College and Five Towns College to amend their admissions policies and practices with respect to applicants’ prior contact with law enforcement. The agreements ensure that each school will refrain from inquiring about irrelevant information regarding contacts with the criminal justice system, including arrests that did not lead to conviction, sealed or expunged records, or pardoned records.  

“An arrest or police stop that did not result in a conviction, or a criminal record that was sealed or expunged, should not – indeed must not – be a standard question on a college application. Such a question can serve only to discourage New Yorkers from seeking a higher education,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “To the contrary, we need to provide opportunities to everyone seeking to better their futures. My office will work to ensure that all applicants receive fair treatment when applying to a college, a university, or for a job.” 

St. John's University is a private, Roman Catholic, coeducational university located in New York City, with a current enrollment of more than 20,000 students. Dowling College is a private college with three campuses located on Long Island. Five Towns College is a for-profit institution located in Dix Hills, Long Island.

The Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau reviewed the application process used by private colleges and universities across New York State after receiving information from the Center for Community Alternatives about the St. John’s application. The review, initiated in December 2013, revealed that the St. John’s application required applicants to disclose every instance of having been “arrested or detained” and that Dowling and Five Towns  also required applicants to disclose information regarding arrests, even when those arrests did not result in convictions.  

The Attorney General’s review of colleges and universities revealed that the information solicited by the schools was overbroad and not relevant to an applicant’s fitness as a student because it did not indicate that the applicant had committed any crime. 

Such questions disproportionately disadvantaged African-American and Hispanic men, who are more likely than white men to be stopped, detained, and arrested by police for minor misconduct. Nationally, racial and ethnic disparities in stops, detentions, and arrest rates remain substantial. In 2009, African-American males were incarcerated in state and federal prisons at close to 6.5 times the rate of non-Hispanic white males, and Hispanic males at 2.4 times the rate of non-Hispanic whites. 

Disqualifying college applicants based solely on information regarding stops, detentions, or other contact with the criminal justice system is inconsistent with New York State law, which bars employers from categorically denying job opportunities to candidates on the basis of a criminal conviction, and inconsistent with the state’s public policy of encouraging the employment and licensure of individuals with criminal records.    

The agreements also ensure that admissions staff will be properly trained in how to inquire about and evaluate criminal convictions for relevancy. Going forward, each school will consider prior convictions only to the extent that they are relevant to public safety or some aspect of the institution’s academic program.   

The work on this issue continues Attorney General Schneiderman’s ongoing efforts to ensure that every New Yorker has the chance to earn a living and lead a productive life after paying a debt to society. These agreements are part of the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau’s broader initiative to combat barriers to re-entry faced by individuals with prior contact with the criminal justice system. The Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau has worked to address barriers put in place by private employers (click here and here for more information about those cases), municipalities (click here), and consumer screening agencies (click here).

Patricia Warth, director of Justice Strategies at Center for Community Alternatives, said, “For many individuals adjusting to life outside of prison, access to higher education can be key to rehabilitation. College can provide those individuals with the skills and confidence they need to secure steady employment and stay out of the criminal justice system. The Attorney General’s agreements today are important in communicating that message to colleges and help underscore the role higher education can play in the lives of people with past convictions.”

Glenn E. Martin, president of JustLeadershipUSA and Co-Founder of the EIO Coalition, said, “Communities across the state should be looking for ways to encourage individuals with criminal histories to seek and obtain the resources they need to rehabilitate. Arbitrary barriers, such as asking applicants for irrelevant arrest information, will only discourage applicants. I commend the Attorney General for making it his priority to address barriers to reentry.”

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Sandra Pullman and Ajay Saini of the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau, which is led by Kristen Clarke.  The Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice is Alvin Bragg.

The Civil Rights Bureau of the Attorney General's Office is committed to promoting access to equal employment opportunities and combating discrimination for all New Yorkers. To file a civil rights complaint, contact the Attorney General’s Office at (212) 416-8250, civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or visitwww.ag.ny.gov.

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