Every year, thousands of college students across the nation leave home for the first time and make decisions with potential to affect their lives for years.
Along with choosing career paths, taking classes and asserting their newfound freedom, some also end up with criminal charges on their records.
A U.S. Department of Justice report released in June showed that students who have been arrested, even for minor crimes, face extra obstacles in an already shaky job market.
A criminal record "will keep many people from obtaining employment, even if they have paid their dues, are qualified for the job and are unlikely to re-offend," according to Amy L. Solomon, a senior adviser to the assistant attorney general in the Office of Justice Programs, and author of the report.
Her report pointed out that "the majority of employers indicate that they would 'probably' or 'definitely' not be willing to hire an applicant with a criminal record."
In October, one 20-year-old woman from Broward County, Fla., was visiting the University of Central Florida campus when she was caught holding an open can of beer and charged with misdemeanor underage drinking.
Like her, many students have their first run-in with law enforcement over relatively minor crimes. But even minor infractions could have implications later on.
"You don't want to have that mark on your record," said University of Central Florida police Chief Richard Beary. "With the job market as competitive as it is, even that misdemeanor arrest could have an impact on you depending on what position you're trying to get."
Though it is unclear what proportion of the arrests made by university police involve students rather than members of the general public, the FBI's Uniform Crime Report shows that thousands of arrests are made on Florida college campuses each year.
In 2011, police departments at the University of Florida, Florida International University, Florida State University and UCF arrested a combined 2,194 people.
There were 513 arrests on the UCF campus that year. Those included many of the 398 UCF students arrested on and off campus. Those students make up just a tiny fraction of UCF's roughly 58,000 students, noted a university spokeswoman.
People who aren't enrolled in schools are on campus for various sporting and social events, and those arrested who are not students are often charged with theft and other property crimes.
Cary Carlisle, a Pensacola, Fla., bail bondsman, has seen plenty of first-time-offender students come through his doors and said that, although the numbers are low, the experience usually forces those students to grow up fast.
"It's usually a pretty eye-opening experience for them," Carlisle said. "After a while the reality hits them, and all of them are usually scared because this is the first time they have had a brush with the law."
In addition to the long-term pitfalls, students also face short-term consequences, university spokeswoman Zenaida Kotala said.
After an arrest has been reported to the university, the student suspect must go before the Office of Student Conduct, which evaluates each case.
The office's student-conduct board - made up of faculty, staff and students - holds hearings for suspected violators and levies sanctions ranging from formal warnings to expulsion.
HOW TO STAY OUT OF TROUBLE
University of Central Florida Chief Richard Beary offers these tips to keep students from getting in trouble with the law:
- Before the student goes off to college, parents should talk about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Students armed with knowledge about drugs and alcohol will know what to do when friends offer them.
- Know the law and abide by it, even when you disagree with it.
- Use common sense. Stay away from situations that you know may get you in trouble later.
(c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel
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