In this study, we examine how the issue of considering criminal history in college admissions is represented and constructed as a problem in Ban the Box (BTB) policies in Maryland and Louisiana. We draw on Bacchi’s “What’s the Problem Represented to be?” approach as an analytic tool to interrogate key policy artifacts such as legislative histories and hearings and the language of enacted policy. Using a multiple case study design, we ask: (a) What is the “problem” represented to be in each state’s BTB policy?, and (b) What are the potential consequences of this representation of the “problem?” Our findings coalesce with those of policy researchers who emphasize the importance of framing problems within their full context. For instance, we demonstrate how reducing the “problem” to the box ignores real, structural barriers and limits equity-minded policy solutions. Further, while each BTB policy appears similar on the surface, we argue that outcomes will likely vary based on how the issue of considering criminal justice history in college admissions is framed and problematized. We conclude by offering directions for future research and specific recommendations for BTB policy design.
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