Pubdate: Wed, 20 Jul 2005
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2005 The New York Times Company
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Higher Education Act)
Bookmark: (Youth)

Cutting College Aid, and Fostering Crime

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.
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