What it means to “ban the box”

The governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, recently vetoed a bill which would have “banned the box” on college applications. The bill was generally seen as bi-partisan friendly and reflected some of Hogan’s previous reform decisions when it came to the treatment of criminals in Maryland.

The “box” in question is a box on college applications which potential university students must check if they were ever charged with a crime. A university is then able to discern if they wish to accept the applicant on the basis of their answer. This practice is currently legal in the state of Maryland, so all universities are able to deny a student entry based on their answer.

The question of safety was stated as one of the primary reasons behind Governor Hogan vetoing the bill, as it did not discriminate what crime the applicant was being charged with. Due to the indiscriminate nature of the bill, petty crime would not be distinguished from violent and sexually aggressive crimes. If passed, the bill could lead to dangerous situations on college campuses where violence, specifically sexual violence, is already a national issue.

The Maryland state legislature is scheduled to reconvene next year. Various bills vetoed by Governor Hogan will be up for review and will be possibly overridden. Delegate Maggie McIntosh (D) has already stated that once the house is back in session, she and other house members will try to inevitably pass the bill.

Although the bill would be able to give a second chance to future students, as well as give them the benefit of the doubt, the question of campus safety still comes to mind. Since the bill is likely to be re-introduced, there should be some changes made in order to ensure that colleges can adequately protect their students, faculty and staff.

The bill currently sets out to only completely “ban the box” from applications. However, this is not conducive to a safe campus environment. Consequently, there could be a stipulation in the bill which allows Maryland universities to require applicants to answer if they were ever convicted of a violent or sexually charged crime. From there, universities can use their own discretion and investigate each individual applicant themselves.

Statistics and research prove that released criminals have a 76 percent likelihood to have extreme difficulty to find a job once freed. Some even find the task impossible. There are many who commit drug crimes and are released due to the prisons’ need to reduce their non-violent offenders. They, just like prospective students, are also limited by “the box.”

Changing some of the content of the bill also increases the likelihood that the governor will be more open to signing it into law. This would ensure the legislator would not have to resort to the difficult task of overriding the veto on the original bill. Most importantly, it spares those who are deserving of a second chance through a higher education.