Approximately one third of homicides go unsolved in America. Almost sixty percent of reported rapes never result in prosecution (much less a conviction). And only slightly more than one in ten auto thefts are ever resolved. (All data from the FBI.) So maybe you should worry about what happens when your classmate is a former inmate, but probably not as much as you think. Or at least, only as much as you’re worrying about what happens when your classmate has committed a crime for which s/he was never arrested or convicted — because for every person who is prosecuted, many others are never caught. In other words: not much.
Hand-wringing aside, our policies are starting to catch up with the facts. Today, the U.S. Department of Education announced a proposal with a set of recommendations to minimize inquiries about conviction histories in the college application process in order to improve college access for those who have criminal records.
Many of our current policies are built on a false duality that divides the world neatly into good people and bad people: college students are good people and former inmates are bad people. Young people suspended from school through the operation of “zero tolerance” discipline practices are just kids caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline, but young people serving sentences in corrections facilities are criminals who need to learn a lesson. And this tidy set of categories helps us manage a reality that otherwise makes us very uncomfortable. Continue reading