Rhode Island Law Makes Financial Aid Tougher to Score for Those with Drug Convictions

Throughout the history of the United States, the age of legality has been an issue of contention. Citizens have questioned and fought the legal drinking age, the age of military service eligibility, the age at which you can drive a car, and the voting age. Today, 18 is generally considered the age at which Americans officially enter adulthood.

Perhaps for that reason, 17 is viewed by many Americans as a sort of golden age: you’re old enough to enjoy life and young enough to make a few mistakes without your permanent record being affected. But actually, in some states, that’s no longer the case.

In Rhode Island, a law passed in June known as “Article 22″ implemented the policy that all 17-year-olds will be treated as adults in any criminal justice matters, including drug offenses. The ramifications of this law are significant for Rhode Island students hoping to attend college, and emphasize the importance of hiring a criminal defense attorney when facing drug charges.

According to federal law, all those with drug convictions on their adult records are ineligible for federally funded financial aid for education. The law also notes that charges and convictions on juvenile records will not be counted. In other words, those tried and convicted of drug crimes as juveniles will not be affected by the restriction.

Rhode Island is one of the many states whose state financial aid regulations mimic those of the federal government. All 17-year-old drug offenders are now considered adults, not juveniles, in Rhode Island. Therefore, the state of Rhode Island will not provide financial aid to anyone convicted of a drug crime at age 17.

This means that hundreds of would-be college students have been denied aid; some of them have been prevented from attending college altogether. The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has written a letter to the Board of Governors for Higher Education imploring them to revise their policies or even repeal Article 22.

After all, the law takes no notice of other criminal convictions, including violent felonies and other serious crimes. And, as many as 15 states already choose to ignore the federal limitations when considering applicants for state-funded financial aid.

The ACLU’s letter calls the effects on those denied financial aid “devastating,” noting that the recently imposed strictness of the laws is a far departure from the previous sanctions imposed when such offenses were handled in family court.

Whether or not Article 22 is repealed in Rhode Island, potential college students in all states should be aware of the potential long-term effects their actions may have.