On January 31, 2018 Civil Survival members testified in support of the Fair Chances in Higher Education Bill, SB6582. The bill would “ban the box” asking about prior criminal convictions on college applications. James Jackson, Christopher Beasley and Tarra Simmons all provided powerful insights into the barriers to education facing people who have been involved with the justice system.
James Jackson, a Civil Survival Community organizer, is a formerly incarcerated individual who is now attending Evergreen College. Mr. Jackson explained the importance of being able to get in front of a real person to tell his story rather than checking a box that usually leads to his application being rejected. Because of his access to education Mr. Jackson says he is the “living example of a second chance.” Banning the box for prospective college students will give them hope and reduce the barriers facing others who deserve their second chance.
Dr. Christopher Beasley is an Assistant Professor at the University of Washington Tacoma and Principal Investigator for the Post-Prison Education Research Lab as well as a co-founder of the Formerly Incarcerated College Graduates Network and a Civil Survival board member. He was incarcerated after his low socio-economic status and lack of opportunity led to drug manufacturing and dealing. After his release, a caring uncle encouraged him to go to college to gain the skills that would allow him to be a positive force in society. Access to higher education changed his life and has fostered his ability to care for others rather than looking at a future without hope. Dr. Beasley explained that banning the box for all prospective college applicants will improve individual lives as well as increasing public safety by providing hope and reducing recidivism.
Tarra Simmons is the co-chair of the Statewide Reentry Council and the Executive Director of Civil Survival. She said that removing barriers to education is a top priority for this legislative session. Ms. Simmons explained that she struggled with barriers at every turn after her release from incarceration. Her only hope was that education might prove to be an equalizer for her. Ms. Simmons stated that she applied to several law schools, all who requested information about her conviction history on their application. Seattle University took a chance and admitted her after listening to her individual story. Ms. Simmons testified that the Box can be an unnecessary punishment destroying hopes and dreams of the ability to move forward in life once a person comes into contact with the criminal justice system. The Box is sometimes an absolute bar to someone who could otherwise change the trajectory of his or her life. Ms. Simmons added that the bill has no costs associated with it but would benefit society by preventing the need to build a costly new prison and allow people to build a new life instead.