We, the undersigned members of the Princeton University community, call upon the Princeton University Administration to not include questions regarding previous criminal justice system involvement on the supplement to the Undergraduate Application.
The mere presence of questions about an applicant's previous criminal history has a deterrent effect for formerly incarcerated applicants, and therefore retaining questions about previous legal system contact negatively impacts the diversity and equity of the applicant pool, and ultimately the student body. In a study of SUNY schools, for each denied applicant who checked the box, 15 other applicants who also checked ‘yes’ failed to complete the application, and, overall, formerly incarcerated applicants failed to complete the application at a rate three times higher than that of other students (Boxed Out: Criminal History Screening and College, 2015). This deterrent effect also has a disparate impact on low-income applicants as economically privileged applicants with experienced, expensive legal counsel are more likely to have their conviction sealed or expunged. The result is that previously incarcerated applicants face more obstacles in applying and matriculating to university, and the breadth of experience within the campus community is systematically delineated by the inequalities of the criminal legal system.
Time and time again, the criminal legal system has been shown to be a continuation of racialized systems of social control and oppression, so that the mark of a criminal record is a better indicator of socio-economic status and racial identity rather than culpability or character (Alexander, Michelle. "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.", 2010). Research has consistently shown that nationwide, Black people are arrested at a rate 2.3 times higher than that of White people (Brame, R., Bushway, S. D., Paternoster, R., Turner, M. G., 2014). Furthermore, a 2014 study revealed that the median annual income of an incarcerated person directly before they were incarcerated was 41% less than non-incarcerated people (Rabuy, Bernadette, and Daniel Kopf. “Prisons of Poverty: Uncovering the Pre-Incarceration Incomes of the Imprisoned.”). In 2018, although Black and Hispanic people comprised only 28% of the total adult population in the United States, Black and Hispanic people make up 56 percent of the total adult prison population in the United States (Pew Research Center, 2018). By retaining questions about previous criminal history, which have been shown to have a deterrent effect on previously incarcerated applicants, Princeton University is reifying the stark inequalities of race and class in the United States within its own walls.
While some see questions of previous criminal history on applications as a guarantor of public safety on campus, the data indicates that removing questions about conviction history will not negatively impact campus safety. Current research finds no statistically significant difference in crime rates between schools that ask about previous criminal history versus schools that do not (Weissman, et. al., 2010). At schools where applications include questions about previous legal system involvement, 97% of students who commit misconduct have no prior history (Runyan et.al. "Can Student-perpetrated College Crime Be Predicted Based on Precollege Misconduct?). This indicates that removing questions about previous criminal history would not make the campus statistically less safe than it already is. Lastly, Princeton University's Graduate School Application does not request information about previous legal system involvement, and no evidence has shown that this change has had a negative impact on campus safety.
In August of 2018, the Common Application announced that it will remove the collection of criminal history information from the common portion of the Common Application, and individual member institutions will be able to independently decide whether to collect criminal history information. This change reflects an important shift in consensus around considering information on previous criminal history, and provides Princeton University with the opportunity to join other institutions such as the University of California system and the University of Maryland system in leading the way towards more inclusive undergraduate admissions processes.A more inclusive undergraduate application, without questions regarding conviction history, will advance the University's momentum towards allowing students from a wide variety of backgrounds to engage in academic pursuits, contribute to the development of the University, and work towards effecting positive change in the world.
We, as concerned members of the Princeton University Community implore the Princeton University Administration to cease collecting criminal history information as part of the undergraduate admissions process.