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Allow Federal Financial Aid for Students with Prior Drug Offenses

This petition had 25,102 supporters

The United States incarcerates people at a higher rate than any other nation, with over two million people incarcerated and nearly five million more under supervised release at any given time. While the problems associated with widespread and often disproportionately-severe direct consequences of conviction have come into increased focus, more troubling still are the largely unnoticed collateral consequences of conviction, which often affect formerly incarcerated people for the rest of their lives.

Currently, over 65 million people in the United States have some type of criminal record. The systems of federal, state, and local laws used to revoke certain civil rights and impose other barriers for people with a criminal history are known as the collateral consequences of conviction, and can create insurmountable barriers to employment or a return to full civic life, which many argue increases recidivism.  A 2013 report commissioned by the Justice Department cataloged a staggering 44,000 collateral consequences nationwide.

One particularly troubling example concerns the effects of a drug conviction on financial aid eligibility. Since 1998, amendments to the Higher Education Act have blocked individuals with drug convictions from receiving federal student aid, including grants, loans, and work study, for periods ranging from one year to indefinitely. More than 200,000 applicants have been denied since these changes took effect, and studies have shown that these laws do not deter young people from committing drug felonies.

This year, Senators Bob Casey [D-PA] and Orrin Hatch [R-UT] introduced Senate bill S. 2557, the SUCCESS Act, which intends to restore eligibility for federal financial aid to these students and calls for a revision of the FAFSA form to remove questions about applicants’ convictions for drug offenses. If implemented, the SUCCESS Act would increase access to higher education for students with drug convictions, leading to better outcomes for those individuals and society. 

There are several things that I know to be true based on my experiences and those of individuals I have met: People absolutely can—and do—change their lives; to accomplish this, motivation and resiliency are not enough—people require both formal and informal supports during such an undertaking; the barriers to reintegration are higher for minorities, individuals with limited education, and those of low socioeconomic status; and, if the successful reintegration of former offenders into the community remains the ultimate goal of society, then legislators and the public must do a better job of facilitating that reintegration.

If you, too, believe in equal access to higher education for all people who are striving to be productive members of society, please sign this petition and contact your legislators to urge their support of the SUCCESS Act.

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