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Deep Dive with Laura Arnold

Podcast: Meek Mill on Probation and Parole in America

The second episode of our podcast, “Deep Dive with Laura Arnold,” explores America’s probation and parole system through the lens of chart-topping hip-hop artist Meek Mill, whose experience being sentenced to prison for minor probation violations — including popping a wheelie on his dirt bike — led him to co-found the REFORM Alliance, a group fighting injustices in the criminal justice system.

Image: Meek Mill and Laura Arnold record an episode of "Deep Dive" on the probation and parole system in America. (David Hebert photo)

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The rallying cry #FreeMeekMill spread like wildfire across the Internet and spilled out into protests in the streets of Philadelphia, calling on justice officials to release Meek Mill from prison, where he was locked up for violating his probation. But the outcry was about more than Mill’s single case: The hip-hop artist has become the face of a movement to address the flaws in America’s probation and parole systems.

Meek Mill, REFORM Alliance Co-Chair, and Laura Arnold, "Deep Dive" host and Arnold Ventures Co-Chair.

Originally intended to serve as an alternative to incarceration, community supervision has morphed over the years into one of the country’s biggest drivers of mass imprisonment.

With 4.5 million people on probation or parole, the community supervision system is a behemoth — one criminal justice experts and advocates say operates like a tripwire, set up to zero in on people’s failures and punish even minor slip ups severely. In Mill’s case, a controversial gun arrest at age 18 plunged him into a probation apparatus he is still grappling with more than a decade later, an experience fellow artist and REFORM Alliance co-founder Jay Z described as being “stalked by a system that considers the slightest infraction a justification for locking him back inside.”

If probation and parole are supposed to keep people out of prison, why are these systems so laser-focused on catching failures instead of helping people lead stable, crime-free lives? And what would it take to reorient America’s probation and parole systems around the goal of promoting success?

In the second episode of “Deep Dive with Laura Arnold,” Arnold Ventures Co-Chair and host Laura Arnold sits down with Mill to hear his story, from growing up “raised on the streets” of Philadelphia to his encounters with police – encounters that are all too common for young black men in America – and the birth of the #FreeMeekMill movement.

Arnold and Mill discuss what his experience shows us about the broken community supervision system and how advocates for reform are trying to find a better balance between accountability and the need to give people chances to grow and escape bad situations. 


How to listen

Listen to the podcast here or on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast app.

About the host

Laura Arnold is the Co-Founder and Co-Chair of Arnold Ventures, founded in 2010, and an attorney and former oil company executive. Read more about her here.