HARRISBURG – In their ongoing efforts to eliminate obstacles and create higher education opportunities for those who need them most, Reps. Jason Ortitay (R-Washington/Allegheny) and Morgan Cephas (D-Philadelphia) today introduced legislation to “ban the box” on applications for public colleges and universities.
“Studies have shown that students with a criminal history do not engage in more criminal activity at college than those entering with a clean record,” Ortitay said. “We need to be creating opportunities for college admission instead of erecting barriers. I do recognize that some violent crimes should be disclosed, and colleges should be able to institute safeguards that will allow students to gain a degree and protect public safety at the same time. This legislation strikes that balance.”
“How do we expect those who paid their debt to society to move forward and better themselves if we allow their criminal past to dictate their future? This reality is especially true in our Black and brown communities,” Cephas said. “Banning the box adds to my fight for real criminal justice reform. It would encourage, not discourage, formerly incarcerated individuals from wanting to go to college, earn a degree, and enter the workforce with the skills they need to land a good-paying job to support themselves and their family, while significantly decreasing their chances of recidivism.”
During a virtual news conference, Cephas and Ortitay discussed their bipartisan effort on House Bill 2952, which would prevent public colleges or universities in Pennsylvania from inquiring about a student's criminal history, with the exception of certain criminal offenses, on the initial applications or at any other time during the admissions process.
Under their legislation, after a student has been accepted, the university would be able to make inquiries for the purpose of offering supportive counseling and services and for making decisions relative to the student’s participation in campus life to determine if the institution would limit such participation.
“As a formerly incarcerated individual and now a student at Penn State, I know the challenges individuals with a criminal record face when trying to apply for higher education,” said Divine Lipscomb, who plays a role in the Student’s Restorative Justice Initiative at Penn State University. “We need to end the narrative of once a criminal, always a criminal. I commend Representatives Cephas and Ortitay for working together to provide people with the tools they need to move forward and grow.”
The event also featured advocates from Community Legal Services and Americans for Prosperity. Other local and national organizations that support the effort include People’s Paper Co-op, Operation Restoration, Prison to Professionals and UnLock Higher Ed.
The 46th Legislative District includes Collier and South Fayette townships and Bridgeville, Heidelberg, McDonald and Oakdale boroughs in Allegheny County. It also encompasses Canton, Cecil, Mt. Pleasant, Robinson and Smith townships and Burgettstown, McDonald and Midway boroughs in Washington County.
Representative Jason Ortitay
46th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Tracy Polovick