One of the most irrational initiatives in the war on crime was a decision by Congress in the 1990’s to cut off some ex-offenders from federal education aid. It’s highly unlikely that anyone has been deterred from lawbreaking as a result. But if people who have paid their debts to society and are seeking new starts are denied education aid, they could well be locked out of the new economy and sent right back through the revolving door into prison.
Congress is revisiting a particularly onerous law under which tens of thousands of students have been turned down for federal grants and loans because of drug offenses, some of them minor and as much as a decade old. A proposed change in the law would improve the picture slightly. It is aimed at penalizing students who commit drug-related crimes while receiving federal aid. It would be better to repeal the provision entirely, as many observers have suggested.
Law enforcement officials have learned over and over again that ex-offenders who get an education and find jobs are far less likely to end up back behind bars. Barring former offenders from school aid makes it virtually impossible for them to get the necessary schooling for joining the mainstream. The law has a disproportionate impact on poor and minority communities, where the drug trade is rampant and young men often have run-ins with the law before they get their lives on track.
By narrowing access to affordable education, the federal government further diminishes the prospects of young people who are already at risk of becoming lifetime burdens to society. Members of Congress are understandably hesitant to cast votes that might brand them as being “soft on crime.” But it doesn’t take a genius to see that barring young offenders from college leads to more crime – not less. Student aid was never intended for use as a law enforcement weapon. Any attempt to employ it that way will inevitably yield perverse and unfair results.
They’re exactly right on this one. Great editorial.
One of the things that’s bugged me about this whole issue is the irrelevant mean-spiritedness of people like Souder.
Take this comment by his spokesperson:
“Students who receive taxpayer dollars to go to college are not making the most of it by taking drugs,” Green said. “It’s one thing if they’re paying for their education or if their parents are paying for it, but it’s unfair to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for a student with a drug habit.”
First, this is not about students with a drug habit — it’s about students who were caught smoking a joint.
Second, this provision does absolutely nothing to insure that students are “making the most of it.” I know students who smoke pot regularly who get straight A’s and are leaders on campus. On the other hand, I know students who waste their time getting drunk, playing computer games, or watching “All My Children” who are struggling with their classwork.
Federal financial aid already has an effective provision to make sure students are getting the most out of college. It’s called grades. If your GPA falls below a certain point, you lose your financial aid, regardless of whether it’s because you’re smoking pot, or watching the Cartoon Network all day.
The HEA provision is wrong, and counter-productive, and I hope it’s completely repealed.