Starting this coming school year, Minnesota colleges and universities may have to dash a few career dreams.
Under a new law, schools have to tell students that if they have criminal convictions, they should check to make sure those convictions don't bar them from getting internships, degrees or even particular jobs.
Imagine you've been convicted of a crime, you've served your prison sentence, and you're motivated to seek a better life. You enroll in a two-year degree at a Twin Cities community college to study human services.
Near the end of the two years, you must do an internship to complete the degree. They ask for a background check, and your convictions suggest you're not human services material.
That's what happened to Shantae Holmes.
"You look at your peers and they're so excited about getting positions, coming into class and telling the instructor, 'this place just hired me, this place just hired me,'" Holmes said. "And you're sitting there [thinking] wow, you're going to get a degree and I may not."
Holmes will be the first to tell you that she has committed some serious crimes -- at least seven felonies. Some of them drug related, some fraud, like forging checks, and other crimes she doesn't want to talk about that she says stem from living on the streets.
“And you're sitting there [thinking] wow, you're going to get a degree and I may not.”Shantae Holmes
Holmes takes responsibility for her crimes, but she thought that after eight years, society would be a little more forgiving. She said no one told her that her convictions might affect her ability to get an internship, a degree or a job in human services.
"I had the common sense to know I'm not going to go to the medical field because I know I've got some stuff that may reflect harm," Holmes said. "But for the individual who has abstained from a negative lifestyle for such a long period of time, you'd kind of think you could go anywhere."
The Council on Crime and Justice is an advocacy organization that conducts research on the causes and consequences of crime. It pushed for the notification law when it saw people, like Holmes, who were unaware of how their convictions might affect their potential jobs.
The council couldn't say how many people will be affected by this law, but says there are about 10,000 new felony convictions in Minnesota each year.
To determine what convictions bar entry to which occupations, and for how long, isn't easy. Some are pretty straightforward. For instance, persons with sex offenses can't work with children.
But other restrictions depend on the seriousness of the offense. For example, a person convicted of food stamp fraud is barred from working in some human services organizations for 15 years.
The council's director, former Hennepin County judge Pam Alexander, said the restrictions can be confusing.
"A lot of it is because we have many, many statutes that prohibit people with felony convictions from doing certain things, and I think most people don't understand how many of them we have," Alexander said. "I thought I was pretty learned in the whole thing, and found out there were many more than even I anticipated."
Alexander said it's important that a person have that information at the start of their schooling, so they can make better decisions about degrees and employment.
Colleges and universities say they aren't quite sure how to comply with the notification law. The University of Minnesota and MnSCU have begun adding a notice to admissions applications.
The legislation's co-author, Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said the notification doesn't need to be complicated.
"If I were the lawyer advising these educational institutions, I would have a little form that each student that's accepted for admission would sign on the bottom: I acknowledge I've been informed that there are certain majors, or certain areas of study that having a criminal history is going to be a problem for getting a job in," Latz said.
Ultimately, Shantae Holmes did get her human services degree after a nonprofit that works with offenders gave her an internship.
She's now an advocate at a community, family and children services organization in Minneapolis, where she helps women from the streets and from prison transition into more stable lives.