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Congress may repeal law denying college aid to drug offenders

We have previously written that a criminal conviction can have consequences that last far beyond whatever sentence is imposed. This is especially true for teenagers and young adults. A conviction, even for minor offenses, can jeopardize job opportunities, college admissions and scholarship opportunities.

Under a federal law enacted in 2000, for instance, individuals with a drug crime conviction on their records became ineligible to receive government grants and loans to help pay for higher education. There was no distinction in the bill between misdemeanor and felony offenses. The law was slightly amended in 2005, and denial of government aid is now limited to drug offenders who were enrolled in school and receiving federal aid when their alleged offense was committed.

Although the 2005 rework made the law slightly less draconian, it remains overly punitive and, arguably, counterproductive. Young offenders who are denied access to an affordable education are more likely to suffer economic and social disadvantages that ultimately make them more likely to reoffend.

Thankfully, Congress may now be seeking to clean up the mess that it made some 16 years ago. There are bipartisan bills in both the House and Senate that would repeal a law passed as a result of the drug hysteria of the 1990s. Given how gridlocked Congress has been in recent years, however, it is unclear if and when this repeal measure could be passed.

It is both unfair and unfortunate that overly punitive drug laws can so negatively impact a young person's future. But in light of laws like this, it is critical for any student facing drug charges to seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.

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