Lake Michigan College Agrees to Individualized Review of Students with Criminal Records, ACLU Announces
Benton Harbor, Mich. – In a settlement finalized today, a Lake Michigan College student who was expelled because he is listed on the sex offender registry will be able to attend classes after administrators carefully reviewed his case.
The ACLU of Michigan, who represented the student and had urged the college to consider each student’s circumstances individually, applauded the decision. The expulsion occurred under a previous policy, which automatically expelled students listed on the registry, regardless of whether they pose a risk to campus safety.
“We support our colleges and universities in their efforts to screen out students who may pose a threat. However, a blanket ban that doesn’t take into account a student’s risk level, age of the offense and rehabilitation efforts is unfair and illegal,” said Miriam Aukerman, ACLU West Michigan Regional Office staff attorney.
“Blanket bans violate the law, and can expose colleges to costly litigation. Other colleges and universities should follow LMC’s lead and craft more carefully tailored rules that actually keep our campuses and communities safe.”
In February 2010, LMC officials notified the ACLU of Michigan’s client that he was being expelled from the college solely because he was listed on Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry for a 10-year-old offense. After public concern about the expulsion of the ACLU of Michigan’s client and other students, the college changed its policy and now reviews the enrollment of students with felony convictions on a case-by-case basis.
This new, more tailored policy allowed the ACLU’s client to appeal his expulsion. During a hearing, college administrators were presented affidavits and letters of support from his therapists, parole officer, professors, landlord and friends testifying to his ability to safely attend LMC. The student won reinstatement and has since reenrolled without incident. The student also recently completed his parole.
“When (he) was expelled from LMC, he was devastated,” wrote Lisa Martin, the student’s former therapist, in a statement to the school. “(He) cannot change the past or undo what he did. What he can and did do is work towards becoming a different person. For (him), obtaining an education was central to his plan to turn his life around. In my professional opinion, (his) attendance at Lake Michigan College does not present a risk. (He) is a positive addition to the campus, rather than a safety threat.”
Dr. Marsha Weissman, executive director of the Center for Community Alternatives, a non-profit organization that has conducted extensive research on policies that limit access to higher education for individuals involved in the criminal justice system, also provided testimony.
“Higher education is one of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism,” wrote Dr. Weissman. “Post-secondary educational programs have been shown to reduce recidivism by approximately 40 percent. Barring people with criminal records from attending college does not improve campus safety, and actually undermines public safety in the larger community.”