Meek Mill And Jay-Z Link Up With The Ivy League For Criminal Justice ReformOctober 25, 2022
Grammy-nominated artist Meek Mill, born Robert Rihmeek Williams, is no stranger to the criminal justice system. He was sentenced to prison at just nineteen years old. In 2017, he was sentenced to up to four years in jail for violating his probation after an alleged airport altercation and by riding a dirt bike in New York while filming a music video.
After an arduous legal battle, Williams was finally released in 2018 and stated, “Although I’m blessed to have the 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.”
Williams stayed true to his words. He founded a nonprofit, REFORM Alliance, a year later alongside Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin, and other prominent leaders in entertainment, business, and philanthropy. The organization was created “to replace America’s criminal justice system with a restorative approach where people can reenter society with dignity, create meaningful pathways to work, and feel equipped to succeed.”
This August, REFORM Alliance teamed up with Columbia University to fund research on incarceration and its effects. REFORM’s newly established Research and Implementation Department provided a grant to the Columbia Justice Lab, whose mission is “to foundationally reconceive justice policy through actionable research, community-centered policy development, and the sustained engagement of diverse constituencies.” Given that academic research on probation and parole has historically been scarce, REFORM hopes to bring together experts in the field to examine how these two topics are intrinsically linked in aspects that extend beyond imprisonment.
The partnership facilitated the release of a special issue of an academic journal (“Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science”) to examine tangible, evidence-based solutions to combat the challenges of the U.S. probation and parole system. The series of papers, “From Supervision to Opportunity: Reimagining Probation and Parole,” also assesses opportunities that can be used by lawmakers and other practice-based stakeholders to improve our justice system.
This compendium reveals the stark and glaring data: “compared to the general population, people on probation or parole are nearly 3 times more likely to be unemployed, formerly incarcerated individuals average approximately $11,300 in income compared to $30,000 for non-justice-involved counterparts, while 8 million people live in poverty due to contact with the justice system.”
Teresa Hodge, a Technology and Human Rights Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School and leading activist for criminal justice reform, is an author of one of the papers, “Moving from Awareness to Urgent Action: A Call for Relevant Data and a Human-Centered Reentry Approach.” She is a victim of the criminal justice system herself, having been formerly incarcerated for 70 months.
Hodge revealed to ESSENCE, “I’ve witnessed firsthand the missed opportunities that result from excluding justice-impacted communities – from employment and stable careers, from housing and other critical services, and even from academic research.”
“Through this collaboration,“ Hodge says, “some of the nation’s leading academic researchers came together to critically assess the ways in which our current system contributes to cycles of poverty and strips communities of a fair chance. Notably, these academic papers also pave a clear path towards meaningful change in parole and probation policies. We still have a long way to go, but the partnership between REFORM Alliance and Columbia Justice Lab challenges our nation to do better and is a critical step in the right direction.”
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