by Kevin W. Bliss
Robert Rihmeek Williams was 18 when he was arrested and convicted for possession of guns and drugs. Following his release he began a successful career as a hip-hop artist by the name of Meek Mill, with multiple platinum selling albums.
Thirteen years later Mill was still on probation, and several violations resulted in his return to prison – for doing wheelies on his dirt bike and being involved in a fight at an airport.
Judge Genece Brinkley determined that Mill’s interaction with the police as a result of those incidents were technical violations of the terms of his probation. Even though the charges were dropped, Mill was sentenced to two to four years in prison in November 2017. Judge Brinkley went so far as to say Mill was a “flight risk” and a “danger to the community.”
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overruled Brinkley’s decision when several prosecutors from Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s Office said they supported vacating Mill’s original drug conviction, and he was released in April 2018 after serving around five months.
Since then, Mill has kicked off a reform movement that focuses on changing “illogical laws that make no sense.”
Along with Philadelphia 76ers owner Michael Rubin, Mill formed an organization called the REFORM Alliance (reformalliance.com) in December 2018, with the aim of reducing the total number of people on parole and probation by one million over the next five years.
“The mission of the REFORM Alliance is to dramatically reduce the number of people who are unjustly under the control of the criminal justice system – starting with probation and parole,” according to the organization’s website. “To win, we will leverage our considerable resources to change laws, policies, hearts and minds.”
Rubin noted the number of people under community supervision “is two-thirds of the population in the criminal justice system, and yet it’s been the area least focused on.”
Indeed, while there are around 2.2 million prisoners in state and federal prisons and local jails, approximately 3.67 million people are on probation and 874,000 are on parole.
With a goal of raising $50 million by co-founders that include Jay-Z, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Clara Wu Tsai, Daniel A. Loeb, Michael Novogratz and Vista Equity Partners founder Robert F. Smith, the REFORM Alliance was launched on January 23, 2019 at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. CNN host Van Jones serves as CEO of the organization.
In November 2018, Mill gave an interview on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah to promote his latest album. While there, he addressed many of the facts surrounding his reform efforts.
“A disproportionate number of men and women of color are treated unfairly by a broken criminal justice system,” he said. “We all need to hold our lawmakers accountable for supporting unfair and inhumane policies and all practices that perpetuate injustice especially to the Blacks and Latinos who fall prey to them most frequently.”
The REFORM Alliance is calling for stronger rehabilitative programs in prisons, shortened probationary terms, an improved bail system, more balanced sentencing structures and the elimination of technical violations.
Rubin said he believes a reduced prison population would not come at the expense of safety for the public or law enforcement, “who are there to keep us safe.”
Mill added the goals of the organization would help reduce mass incarceration and unnecessary correctional supervision. He wants to use the money saved for better employment programs and counseling for former prisoners.
“Although I’m blessed to have resources to fight this unjust situation, I understand that many people of color across the country don’t have that luxury and I plan to use my platform to shine a light on those issues,” Mill said. “I’m one of the lucky ones. We have people who don’t have a voice,” he added. “I’m here to speak on behalf of those people who don’t have a voice.”
Sources: rollingstone.com, spin.com, nytimes.com, mercurynews.com, cbsnews.com, billboard.com
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