Puget Sound is Founding Partner in White House Partnership on Criminal Justice

June 10, 2016

– University of Puget Sound today joined with the Obama Administration and colleges and universities from across the country as a founding partner in the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge. The pledge, launched today at the White House, represents a call-to-action for all members of the academic community to help eliminate barriers for those with a criminal record and create a pathway for a second chance.

Puget Sound is among 15 higher education founding partners invited to the White House today by Education Secretary John King and Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Munoz. The Tacoma-based college was unable to send a representative at short notice, though Academic Vice President Kris Bartanen and Associate Research Professor in Religious Studies Tanya Erzen attended an earlier White House roundtable in May to discuss criminal justice reforms. 

“The diversity of higher education institutions in the U.S. is a strength of this nation,” said Bartanen. “That strength needs to be available to justice-involved persons, including those currently incarcerated and those working through the challenges of re-entry.

“Liberal arts education prepares citizens to be self-confident, open thinkers, who are life-long learners. Puget Sound’s collaborative work with the Freedom Education Project at Washington Corrections Center for Women and its support of the Fair Chance Education Pledge are commitments to reduce recidivism, increase public safety, and address broader issues of racial, economic, educational, and criminal justice disparities.”

Puget Sound’s individual pledge confirms “fair chance” practices already in place or in development, including considering criminal justice questions only in the later part of a holistic read of all student admission files, giving all prospective students an opportunity to explain any criminal justice involvement and their preparedness for postsecondary study.

The national liberal arts college also has had 23 professors involved in teaching college-level classes at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) in Gig Harbor, as part of the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound (FEPPS). FEPPS is a four-year-old nonprofit venture that organizes professors from six Washington colleges and universities to teach the women at WCCW.

The college learning project recently was brought under the umbrella of Puget Sound’s Civic Scholarship Initiative (CSI), which focuses campus scholarly work on community needs. FEPPS was founded in 2013 by Puget Sound professors Tanya Erzen, Stuart Smithers, and Robin Jacobson, and The Evergreen State College professor Gilda Sheppard. It currently has 140 women enrolled in college classes.

Puget Sound applauds the growing number of public and private colleges and universities, including University of Washington, who are taking action to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to succeed, including individuals who have been involved with the criminal justice system. When an estimated 70 million or more Americans—nearly one in three adults—have a criminal record, it is important to remove unnecessary barriers that may prevent these individuals from gaining access to education and training that can be so critical to career success and to a fulfilled and productive life.

Puget Sound is committed to providing individuals with criminal records, including formerly incarcerated individuals, a fair chance to seek higher education so they can obtain the knowledge and skills needed to contribute to our nation’s growing economy.

The new White House initiative is part of multiple efforts by President Obama to reform America’s criminal justice system and expand college opportunity.

How University of Puget Sound Fulfills the Pledge:

Puget Sound has adopted fair chance admission practices that include considering criminal justice questions only in the later part of a holistic read of all admission files, giving all prospective students an opportunity to explain criminal justice involvement and preparedness for postsecondary study, communicating clearly on the Puget Sound website how justice and discipline involvement will be considered, and demonstrating a clear record of admitting students who have reported history of justice or discipline involvement. In faculty and staff hiring processes, contingent offers precede criminal background checks; results are considered in the context of the specific position description. We have a strong set of programs in support of campus safety, including prevention of and response to sexual assault. Our campus also supports the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound as a signature initiative in civic scholarship, which includes establishing mutual, reciprocal community partnerships to support justice-involved individuals and providing high-quality liberal arts education at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. Twenty-three Puget Sound faculty to date have taught in the program, and a long list of students have served as tutors and volunteers, and—this summer—in a new internship program at the prison. The Race and Pedagogy Initiative, another signature initiative, has hosted campus-community summit sessions on race, education, and justice.

The White House Announcement: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/06/10/fact-sheet-white-house-launches-fair-chance-higher-education-pledge

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