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Dowling College, Five Towns College to stop asking applicants if they've been arrested

An agreement states that Dowling College in Oakdale,

An agreement states that Dowling College in Oakdale, above, Five Towns College in Dix Hills and St. John's in Queens "will consider prior convictions only to the extent that they are relevant to public safety or some aspect of the institution's academic program," state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. Photo Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Two Long Island colleges, as well as St. John's University in Queens, have agreed to stop asking applicants if they've ever been arrested or about convictions that were expunged, sealed or pardoned, state officials said Monday.

The agreement states that Dowling College in Oakdale, Five Towns College in Dix Hills and St. John's in Jamaica "will consider prior convictions only to the extent that they are relevant to public safety or some aspect of the institution's academic program," state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a statement.

The announcement comes after a review by the Attorney General's Civil Rights Bureau, which received an inquiry from the Center for Community Alternatives about the admissions process at St. John's.

According to the statement released by Schneiderman, the review found "that the information solicited by the schools was overboard and not relevant to an applicant's fitness as a student" -- because it did not indicate the applicant had committed a crime. The agreement specifies that applicants will no longer be asked about contact with the criminal justice system, including "arrests that did not lead to conviction, sealed or expunged records, or pardoned records," Schneiderman said.

The office said that such questions "disproportionately disadvantaged African-American and Hispanic men" -- because they were "more likely than white men to be stopped, detained, and arrested" by police for "minor misconduct."

Schneiderman said that in 2009 studies found that African-American men were incarcerated in state and federal prisons at almost 6.5 times that rate of non-Hispanic white males, while Hispanic males were incarcerated at 2.4 times the rate.

"Disqualifying college applicants based solely on information regarding stops, detentions, or other contact with the criminal justice system is inconsistent with New York State law, which bars employers from categorically denying job opportunities to candidates on the basis of a criminal conviction," Schneiderman said. In a statement, Five Towns College Provost Carolann Miller said: "Five Towns is very happy to comply with the law, and we've removed the statement regarding arrests from our admissions application."

Dowling College president Albert Inserra said in a statement that the college "is merely following the practice of all colleges and universities which participate in the common application including more than a dozen SUNY schools, Ivy League institutions and many Long Island colleges and universities. . .

"Like these other institutions Dowling has agreed not to ask about arrests which did not lead to conviction, but we will continue to ask all applicants if they have been convicted of a felony. While we believe in offering second chances, we are strongly committed to protecting the safety of all of our students, faculty and employees."

With Candice Ferrette

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