Thursday, March 23, 2006

federal lawsuit over financial aid for drug offenders

does it seem strange that students convicted of rape remain eligible for federal financial aid but students convicted of misdemeanor drug possession are ineligible? under the "drug provision" of the higher education act, about 200,000 people convicted of drug crimes have been denied educational grants, loans, and work-study opportunities since 2000. drug crimes are the only offenses that trigger this sort of automatic exclusion.

the times reports on a class-action complaint filed by the aclu and student groups against the u.s. department of education. of course, the act only affects low- and middle-income students who would otherwise be eligible for financial aid. african americans are hit hardest. although most surveys find only small black/white differences in drug use, african americans are significantly overrepresented among those convicted of drug crimes.

in predicting recidivism, it is difficult to sort selection effects from education effects. nevertheless, higher education appears to provide an important pathway out of crime for many people. one could certainly argue that it makes sense to place criminal offenders behind non-offenders in the financial aid queue. that said, the selective exclusion of drug offenses seems to make little sense.

my delinquency students know from our class surveys that some of their classmates have committed serious crimes. when they form small groups to complete assignments, the thought that they may be working with admitted violent offenders sometimes causes concern. yet none of these students would give a second thought to working with kraig selken, a plaintiff in this case. he lost financial aid for misdemeanor marijuana possession -- a crime to which over seventy percent of my students have confessed.

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