Update: The Philadelphia Superior Court granted Meek Mill a new trial on July 24, 2019.
Attorneys for Meek Mill appeared Tuesday before the Pennsylvania Superior Court to request judges vacate the hip-hop artist's 2008 gun and drug conviction, which has kept Mill on probation and in and out of prison for more than a decade.
“Ten years of probation set me back many, many, many times on my way to success,” says the chart-topping Mill, who is seeking a new trial with a new judge — something prosecutors support. Mill was 18 when he was arrested on a highly controversial gun charge. He admits he was carrying a gun but denies pointing it at officers. Questions were later raised about the credibility of the arresting officer, who was “investigated by federal authorities for several alleged acts of corruption.”
After spending 16 months in jail, Mill, like more than 4.5 million other Americans, was released into the probation and parole system, otherwise known as the community supervision system. America’s “mass supervision” system has come under fire for its hyper vigilance and excessive punitiveness —
a system where even a minor infraction can land people behind bars for years.
Mill was one of those people. He was imprisoned in 2017 not for committing crimes, but for having “police contact” — just interacting with an officer. The unfairness of his case sparked the #FreeMeekMill movement and led Mill to co-found REFORM Alliance.
Mill described the events that led him to prison to Arnold Ventures Co-Chair Laura Arnold in the Deep Dive podcast:
Meek Mill: So the citation in the airport as self-defense was thrown away, the popping a wheelie, which they actually charged me with an F1 [first-degree] felony at first, it was thrown away ... I attended court at a preliminary. It was thrown away and still had to go back to court at Philadelphia and was sentenced to two to four years, and that’s basically for police contact because I came in contact with the police. Never found guilty of any crime and never committed any crime or was accused of any criminal activity.
LA: So you went back to prison.
MM: Yeah. I went to a state penitentiary where I’ve never been and this was like a new stage right here where you’re actually with the people who are found convicted of rape, murder. I’m living with these people seven days a week.
LA: And that is when the Free Meek movement started.
Mill has become the face of a broken probation and parole system that incarcerates nearly 1 in 4 people on any given day for violating the conditions of their probation or parole, costing states more than $9.3 billion each year, according to a report by Council of State Governments’ Justice Center and funded by Arnold Ventures. It also found that 45 percent of new prison admissions are due to probation and parole violations — many minor infractions such as missing an appointment or failing a drug test.
A believer in second chances, Mill has grown frustrated with a system that fails to consider the real-life circumstances of those it oversees.
“If you don’t believe people in the world deserve chances, you might got a lot of waking up to do. If you commit crime, you should go to jail, you should do the time that comes with crime, and I think any criminal that’s dedicated to living a life of crime, you know when you get caught for doing this crime, it’s time to go to jail,” Mill told Arnold on the Deep Dive podcast. “But you’ve got people making honest mistakes, going back to prison .... I’m not here speaking for like low-lives, people who don’t work, people who don’t take care of their families, people who don’t do what they’re supposed to do to move forward in life. I’m speaking for the people who actually are trying to escape these situations and better ourselves.”
His REFORM Alliance, launched with partners including hip-hop artist Jay-Z, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin, aims to reduce the number of people involved in the probation and parole system.
Learn about Mill’s life growing up in Philadelphia with a single mother (his father died of gun violence when Mill was 5), his encounters with the justice system, and REFORM Alliance in an interview with him in our podcast “Deep Dive with Laura Arnold.” Listen to it here, on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher or your favorite podcast app.