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Report from CLS: Colleges Should "Ban the Box"

Report from CLS: Colleges Should "Ban the Box"

Today, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia (CLS) released a report encouraging colleges, including many in the Philadelphia area, to end the practice of unnecessarily asking applicants to disclose information about juvenile and criminal records on their initial applications. This practice has a significant impact on youth of color, who are over-criminalized at staggering rates. The report, an effort from CLS’s Youth Justice Project, explains to colleges why this practice is problematic, and includes recommendations that can help colleges promote access and equity by “banning the box” on their applications.

Research has shown that asking about records on college applications is not related to increasing safety on campus, but it does prevent people with records from completing applications and enrolling in school. Because of the disparate impact this has on young people of color, it is particularly important for colleges to end this harmful practice that may violate civil rights law.

“Colleges in the Philadelphia area and across the country should adopt the best practice of removing questions about juvenile and criminal records from their applications. Doing so will encourage young people to access higher education, and will send an important message about the value of racial equity and diversity on campus,” said CLS staff attorney and Youth Justice Project co-director Jamie Gullen.

Many schools in Pennsylvania utilize the Common Application as a means of streamlining college admissions for applicants. Unfortunately, the Common Application continues to ask expansive questions regarding prior contact with the juvenile or criminal legal systems. Other schools that use their own applications also ask questions about juvenile or criminal records. In addition to the screening out of applicants who have records by admissions staff, merely asking these questions has a well-documented effect of deterring people with records from completing college applications.

Because of racial bias in the legal system, the wealth gap between white and Black families that exacerbates inequity in access to college education, and the need for increased diversity on college campuses, CLS is advocating for colleges to remove these questions from their applications. Additionally, the report details a variety of other steps that educational institutions and law-makers can take to open the doors to college access for people with juvenile and criminal records.

Added Ms. Gullen, “Philadelphia is the poorest big city in America, but is also full of motivated and capable young people who will become the future leaders of our city if given the chance.”

About Community Legal Services of Philadelphia:

Founded in 1966 by the Philadelphia Bar Association, Community Legal Services (CLS) has provided free civil legal assistance to more than one million low-income Philadelphians. As the City’s oldest and largest legal services program, CLS represented approximately 9,500 clients in the past year. CLS assists clients when they face the threat of losing their homes, incomes, health care, and even their families. CLS attorneys and other staff provide a full range of legal services, from individual representation to administrative advocacy to class action litigation, as well as community education and social work. CLS is nationally recognized as a model legal services program. For more information, contact 215-981-3700 or visit

About CLS’s Youth Justice Project: Launched in January of 2016, the Youth Justice Project (YJP) provides holistic representation and engages in community-based outreach to ensure that young people transitioning to adulthood are able to connect to the services they need to gain stability and access opportunity. The YJP has a particular focus on working with youth who are most marginalized, including youth of color, youth who have been in the child welfare, juvenile, or criminal legal systems, youth experiencing homelessness, and LGTBQ+ youth. The YJP also works with partners to push for changes to laws, systems, and policies to ensure that young people are able to connect to the opportunities they need to thrive. For more information, contact or visit