Some time ago, the Washington Times decided to run a story about a federal policy suggestion that colleges place the criminal background questions deeper into the entrance application procedure. At first blush, given the issues we’ve been seeing in the headlines about crime on campus, this probably seemed blatantly insane. However, the government was not talking about sex offenders, or any other kind of violent criminals. This is all about criminals that the government creates with its epic failure – the war on drugs.

While making this suggestion doesn’t quite reach the point of the government taking responsibility for its failed policies on drugs, it is a step in the right direction, because at least it is an attempt to mitigate the damage it is doing. Some people may believe that it’s important to continue the war on drugs, whether it’s because of fear of drug cartels across our southern border in Mexico, or because of fear of rampant drug use and addiction if we were to legalize or at least decriminalize the use and sale of narcotics and marijuana. However, based on what we’re seeing in states that have started to legalize marijuana, those fears seem to be unfounded. That is not suggesting that the partial legalization of cannabis has not caused issues, but tax income from sales definitely does leave states with the ability to fund actions they may need to take to deal with any problems.

As for colleges accepting students with nonviolent criminal backgrounds, it is important to realize that there may be at least a little guilt involved in the government’s current suggestion. The uncomfortable fact is that law enforcement across the nation has been engaging in less-than-above-board activities when it comes to rounding up supposedly dangerous drug rings in our schools. One of the most egregious cases involved a sting operation in California that literally targeted unpopular children, including one who was autistic.

The other issue that may have been in the calculus for the government is the fact that the “three strikes” rules still apply for drug offenders in their system, and in many states. Local and state authorities receive money from the federal government for every prisoner they have incarcerated on drug offenses, which means that this has essentially become a money-making scheme. It also means that people who are found guilty of having relatively small amounts of drugs on them – particularly marijuana – are receiving mandatory sentences reaching into the double digits.

When they do get out, it is difficult for them to find work, or get training for a career, which only encourages the possibility that they will end up in prison again on other offenses. Considering the fact that we are slowly moving toward the point where at least marijuana may become legal on the federal level, we are setting up people for a life of limited opportunities based on actions that could end up being legal within their lifetimes. Jason Pye, Communications Director for FreedomWorks explains:

Nearly 100 million Americans have a criminal record, which can be a roadblock to educational and employment opportunities. If we’re to break the cycle of crime and poverty, we must embrace policies that allow nonviolent offenders to have a chance at leading productive lives. Conservative states have proven that criminal justice reform works. These states have lowered recidivism, reduced crime rates, and saved taxpayers money. If we fail to reduce recidivism through smart reentry policies, we’re failing our communities.

Before condemning the government for suggesting that these individuals should be allowed on college campuses, we need to seriously consider the value of locking them out of the opportunity to contribute to society. If it wasn’t for the government’s current policing and sentencing procedures, these people wouldn’t even need to worry about checking that box about criminal records on those applications in the first place.