U.s. Wrong To Deny Drug Convicts Second Chance At School, Loans


420 Staff
The student government at University of California, Berkeley created a school-funded scholarship Jan. 24 that would provide financial aid to students with drug convictions.

This comes nearly 10 years after the 1998 Higher Education Act Amendment that denies federal financial aid to drug offenders.

It's about time someone wises up and realizes the importance of giving students who may have made a few dumb mistakes a second chance in life, rather than condemning them to a difficult existence.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy ( SSDP ) is a nationwide organization with chapters on college campuses that fight for the rights of students who can't get financial aid because of previous drug convictions.

According to the group's website, ssdp.org, 200,000 college students have been forced to put their education on hold or discontinue due to federal law.

SSDP filed a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Education Feb. 8, claiming the law allowed the government to "use financial aid as a means by which to punish people convicted of a criminal offense."

Previous to the law's enaction, federal financial aid was provided based on need and the cost of an education at any specific school.

But these days, no matter how severe your conviction, if it involves drugs, you're out of luck. What this law doesn't take into account is the severity of the offense. One-time pot smokers can't be equated to ******* dealers by any stretch of the imagination.

Drug use can't be condoned, but there's more to a person than a drug conviction brought about by hanging out with the wrong crowd or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Even if the law could be justified as punishment for students involved in drug-related crimes, it could never be fair. Wealthier students with drug convictions are able to pay for college and those with little help from mom and dad get screwed.

No matter how you look at the law, it's unfair to the portion of those students who actually turned their lives around after their conviction. On the contrary, this law provides no reward for rehabilitation.

It would be more appropriate for the law to deny financial aid for one or two years following a conviction. Then, if a student has no drug convictions within that period, he or she can be eligible for federal financial aid again.

Add a three-strikes rule, and you've got a responsible drug policy.

That way, instead of punishing students with drug convictions and giving them no hope, the law actually rewards good behavior following drug convictions.

In a way, the current law perpetuates drug use by disillusioning students with previous drug convictions. Some students who can't pay for school on their own may just slip deeper into the drug culture and assume higher education is an unachievable goal.

The Berkley scholarship fund is just a small step toward an acceptable solution to this issue. Changes must be made at the federal level to allow students convicted of drug charges a fair opportunity to be successful in life.

Source: UTD Mercury, The (TX Edu)
Email: editor@mercury.utdallas.edu
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Fax: 972-883-2772
Copyright: 2007 The UTD Mercury
Author: James Kosterman
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