Philadelphia MC Meek Mill threw his hat into the ring to fight for prison reform in 2019 after overcoming his own harrowing ordeal with the criminal justice system. Now it seems the organization Mill co-founded, the REFORM Alliance, is making headway on its mission to overhaul the system.
Here are 5 things to know about Meek Mill’s prison reform work.
1. Meek Mill became a passionate advocate of criminal justice reform after his own life was affected by harsh sentencing.
Meek Mill, whose legal name is Robert Rihmeek Williams, became the poster boy for criminal justice reform after he was imprisoned for violating his probation from a 2008 gun charge he received when he was 19.
In 2017, Mill was sentenced to two-to-four years in prison and had his probation extended by more than 10 years by Judge Genece Brinkley for violating his probation by riding a dirt bike in New York while filming a music video; as well as getting into an alleged altercation at the airport, NPR reported.
Mill maintained his innocence on all charges except one and a lone officer was the only witness in the case against him. Brinkley, however, ignored the prosecution and probation officer’s requests for no jail time and Mill’s plea for mercy.
“I’m human. I’m not perfect. I’m asking for mercy. You gave me the ladder to do what I have to do to prevail in my struggle. I made it this far, I can’t really go back and start over,” Meek Mill said at the time.
Brinkley was not moved and sentenced him anyway. It is also reported she clashed with Mill repeatedly during the time she oversaw his probation, according to Essence magazine.
These and other factors, including an accusation that Brinkley tried to bribe Mill into signing with someone she shared a personal relationship with, led many to believe the judge was abusing her authority and had a personal ax to grind with the “Wins & Losses” MC.
Mill’s imprisonment sparked protests, calls for his release by fans and celebrities alike and brought more awareness to the need for criminal justice reform. It all fell under the umbrella of the grassroots #FreeMeekMill movement.
2. Meek Mill committed to fighting against injustice in the criminal justice system upon his release from prison.
Meek Mill was released from prison in April 2018 and Brinkley was eventually removed from his case. In 2019, he partnered with Jay-Z, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Fanatics chairman and Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin, Brooklyn Nets co-owner Clara Wu Tsai, Third Point CEO Daniel Loeb and Galaxy Digital founder Michael E. Novogratz to start the REFORM Alliance.
The non-profit organization said it was on a mission to change “illogical laws that make no sense.”
3. After being taken off probation, Meek Mill doubled down on his promise to support criminal justice reform.
Mill was taken off probation in Aug. 2019. The rapper spoke to supporters outside the courtroom and doubled down on his stance to help others who experienced the same trials as him.
“Meek free! I’m not on probation no more,” Meek said to a crowd that erupted into cheering outside of the courthouse in Philadelphia’s Center City. “I just wanted to come up here myself and thank all the supporters, because I know y’all probably have family members in jail or people going through the same thing as me. I will continue to do what I do with the Reform movement and help the people that help me.”
In a separate tweet, Mill said, “I’m extremely grateful that my long legal battle is finally behind me and I appreciate that it has sparked a much-needed discussion about probation reform and the inequalities that exist within our two Americas.”
4. REFORM has passed 14 criminal justice measures and bills in nine states, the latest of which is Florida.
REFORM has been making headway with over a dozen legislative successes. The most recent success is a Florida bill that was signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis after receiving unanimous bipartisan support, according to a press release. It went into effect on July 1.
The bill gives people on probation the chance to shorten their sentences through educational and workforce credits. For example, people can get 30 days off probation terms for every 6 months they work an average of 30 hours a week consecutively and 60 days off probation terms each time they complete an educational activity.
The bill also enacts a new permanent infrastructure for remote reporting statewide as the need for in-person visits has been a frequent violation for people who sometimes have extenuating circumstances.
“Improving public safety isn’t a partisan issue,” REFORM CEO Robert Rooks said. “The new law means more people on probation will pursue education and employment, producing better outcomes for themselves and their families. That will lead to safer and stronger communities for all. This is a huge win.”
REFORM claims to have helped over 650,000 people have an easier path to getting off probation to date.
5. REFORM is doing more than working on policy.
According to Black Enterprise, REFORM hosted a job fair in Philadelphia in June “at the Wells Fargo Center to revitalize Philly’s workforce and economy while helping Philadelphians get employed.” The fair was supported by the 76ers, Amazon, Fanatics, NAACP Philadelphia and Wells Fargo Center.
The Columbia Justice lab is also preparing to publish a set of 12 papers that will summarize the challenges and policy solutions for the criminal justice system in America, the research for which was made possible by a grant from REFORM Alliance.
PHOTO: Meek Mill poses for a portrait at the Roc Nation offices in New York on Sept. 22, 2021, to promote his upcoming album “Expensive Pain.” (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)