On Tuesday, the Carceral State Project — a collaborative project researching the effects of mass incarceration — along with undersigned faculty, students, staff and community members at the University of Michigan, issued an open letter to University administrators calling on them to immediately rescind the recently implemented Required Disclosure of Felony Charges and/or Felony Convictions policy.
The letter argues the new policy adds to the currently invasive hiring procedures the University has in place, which includes a criminal background check and information from sealed juvenile records in some instances.
“This self-disclosure mandate adds a new punitive element to already invasive and unjust policies that cause far more harm than good,” the letter reads. “Taken together, these policies promote over-criminalization rather than public safety, reinforce the racial and economic inequalities in the criminal justice system and on our campus, and have other devastating collateral consequences.”
Calling for the recall of the policy, the letter demands the University join other universities — both public and private — that have eliminated regulations requiring criminal record and pending charges disclosure during the admissions and application processes and have released criminal background checks of students and employees beyond state and federal regulations.
The letter also calls attention to four main points. The first claims academic research shows how criminal record disclosure and demanding criminal background checks do not always result in less violence and greater public safety, and instead lead to more consequences for impacted groups.
“Because communities of color are disproportionately policed, arrested, prosecuted, and convicted, and the poor are criminalized far more aggressively than those with means, disclosure and criminal background check policies serve to exacerbate existing racial and class inequalities by limiting access to education and employment for members of vulnerable communities,” the letter reads.
The second point implies the University did not establish these policies with transparent or democratic methods and lacked community input. The third point expresses the undersigners’ concerns about the “individualized assessment” for those who disclose criminal records. The final point notes how the policy distances the University from the national “ban the box” movement by encouraging regulations that criminalize students and staff.
“It is not possible for the University to implement a discretionary system of risk assessment without reproducing and enhancing the discriminatory aspects of the broader system of criminal justice in the United States, including policies that exacerbate racial/economic inequality and the criminalization of marginalized communities,” the letter reads.
The letter ends with an acknowledgment of University administrators’ goals to make the broader community safer. However, the Carceral State Project and the undersigners feel the new policy is not the correct way to ensure general wellbeing.
“We offer our expertise as members of this and surrounding communities – both formerly incarcerated and not – so that together with the administration we might craft campus practices and policies that would, in fact, increase the well-being of all members of our community.”
This is a developing story. Check back on michigandaily.com for updates.