The legislation would reduce probationary periods and minimize restrictions on technical violations.
Meek Mill braved the Philadelphia cold with several Pennsylvania politicians Tuesday (April 2) afternoon to propose a new bipartisan bill aimed at mending the state's probation and parole system.
The legislation is an early step for REFORM Alliance, the criminal justice reform organization Mill founded in January. On hand outside the Philadelphia Municipal Services Building to introduce those plans were REFORM co-chair Michael Rubin and CEO Van Jones, joined by Rep. Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia), Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland) and others.
The proposed bill would prevent probationers and parolees in Pennsylvania from being thrust back into the criminal justice system for non-violent, technical probation violations -- similar to the violations that sent Mill back to jail in November 2017 over what was then nearly a decade-old gun and drug case. Under the bill's provisions, Pennsylvania courts would not be able to hand a person consecutive probation sentences, or extend a person's probation or parole time due to nonpayment of fines and fees. On the opposite end, the bill would also establish a system of incentives to reward good behavior for those individuals.
Further, the legislation would ensure that people under supervision could not be re-incarcerated for testing positive for marijuana, associating with someone with a criminal history or traveling outside their jurisdiction, unless it can be proven that they were trying to escape supervision.
"It's a lot of laws and statutes that don't actually make sense for people that look like myself," said Mill, who was granted early release on bail in April 2017. "If you're around a felon, you could be sent back to prison. Any felons in here right now? Basically, you could be put in technical violation for just being around a felon, or for not paying your fines and dues. I was falsely accused of a crime in 2007. I got into the music buisness, made a lot of money for myself and overcame a lot of obstacles, and I'm still on bail, I'm on probation."
"I'm here to speak for the ones who don't have the voice," he continued. "I hate that it had to be me, a public figure and a rapper, to go to jail for it to become an issue.... I could be sitting in jail doing the two- to four-[year] sentence, maybe playing ping pong or chess, but instead I'm giving back to the community."
During Mill's own sentencing two years ago, Common Pleas Judge Genece Brinkley cited a failed drug test and a failure to comply with a court order restricting his travel. In the time since, Mill has become a staunch advocate for criminal justice reform in Pennsylvania and beyond, founding REFORM with the aim to reduce the prison population by 1 million over the next five years. This summer, Meek will also unveil his Free Meek documentary exploring his journey through the criminal justice system on Amazon Prime.
"Whether you did it or didn't do it, a technical violation can end you back up in prison," said Harris. "And if you're a black man living in Philadelphia, the wrong place at the wrong time could be anywhere.... That means you'll lose your job, you'll lose your home, and in many instances, you'll have to start back over again."
Pennsylvania has the second highest percentage of citizens on probation and parole in the U.S. and the highest incarceration rate across the Western hemisphere. In the last 40 years alone, the state's prison population has increased 850 percent, with over 80,000 Pennsylvanians in prison on a given day.
"The toughest thing to do is reach across the aisle," said Jones of the bipartisan bill. "When you have leaders who are willing to put the people first, those leaders deserve our full attention."
Added Rubin, a 76ers co-owner: "The way to fix this big issue is to bring everybody together, so thank you very much for caring, for being here. I just whispered to Meek, a year ago, he was in prison, and now we've got all these people rallying to fix the probation and parole issue."