To the Editor:

I found Wednesday’s column by Meghan Clyne ’03 (“Yale shouldn’t reimburse lost federal financial aid,” 4/17) disturbing yet characteristic of many Americans’ views toward those we forever label criminals.

One of the problems with the war on drugs is that those who break the law are stigmatized and punished for the rest of their lives, long after “paying their debt to society.”

The war on drugs, in which our government has been engaged for decades, has proven to be more destructive than restorative, ruining the lives of urban and minority youth for petty drug infractions. A small amount of crack cocaine has a stiff mandatory sentence while a similar amount of powder cocaine carries with it a much smaller and more lenient sentence. This is unfair and misguided — it goes after persons at the bottom of the drug industry instead of focusing on the rich and powerful traffickers and producers.

I applaud Yale’s decision to reimburse lost financial aid for those convicted of drug offenses. A small mistake made in someone’s past should not prevent them from bettering their lives later in life. Yes, a higher education is not a right, but it is the key to attaining quality employment and a better life. Federal laws denying aid to students with drug offenses penalize those who have already been punished. Instead of being restorative and using the criminal justice system to rehabilitate as well as punish, such policies serve to keep many people forever marginalized, voiceless, and oppressed.

Furthermore, denying federal aid and grants disproportionately affects the poor and working class, as a wealthy Yale student could easily pay tuition and fees without assistance. The federal law should be changed, and Yale’s stance toward financial aid in this regard is a step in the right direction. Many of our leaders have led imperfect lives. What a pity it would be if we were denied their talents because of unfair federal policies and self-righteous views toward “criminals.”

Education should not be used to further punish those we brand criminals. Education should be used to help restore lives and provide opportunities for people to pursue a better life for themselves and their communities.

Candace McKinley ’03

April 17, 2002