Opinion: Meek Mill, Jay-Z and other big names in sports fight for criminal justice reform

Meek Mill will never forget.

"When I was in prison, people marched for me, they fought for me," Mill told USA TODAY Sports. "I'll never forget that or take it for granted. When I got out, I needed to give back. That's what I'm doing. That's what I'm going to do until the problem is fixed. I don't care how long it takes. I don't care if it takes the rest of my life."

What is Mill fighting for? With help from powerful people in the sports world, as well as a rapper turned NFL partner, Mill is pushing to change a draconian criminal justice system into a less cruel one.

This month is the two-year anniversary of Mill, along with Jay-Z, Patriots owner Bob Kraft, and Mill's close friend, Michael Rubin, 76ers partner, along with Clara Wu Tsai, Brooklyn Nets partner, starting the bipartisan criminal justice reform organization called REFORM Alliance.

Rapper Meek Mill got the best birthday present on May 6. The "Dreams and Nightmares" artist welcomed a baby boy with girlfriend Milan Harris.

"Milano dropped me off a king on my birthday! #thebestgift" he tweeted. (Photo: TARA ZIEMBA, AFP/Getty Images)

The group represents the culmination of not just the personal journey of Mill from prisoner to activist, but Mill and Rubin turning that journey into action.

REFORM began prior to the killing of George Floyd in May, but it's mission fits perfectly in the post-Floyd world, where the examination of policing and criminal justice reform remains a priority across the nation, and likely will for years if not decades.

The organization has spent much of its efforts fighting for probation reform, something based on Mill's own experience with the system. In 2007 when Mill was 19 years old he was arrested on gun and drug charges in Philadelphia. He's essentially been on probation for most of his adult life and his case became emblematic of how harsh, and unfair, the judicial system can be.

"Meek was one of my best friends before he went through everything," said Rubin. "When he went to prison for not breaking a law, it really got me looking at the system, and inspired me."

Quietly, and steadily Mill, Rubin and the other members, many with a sports connection, entered into this ugly world of American jurisprudence. The group launched on Jan. 23, 2019, and according to REFORM, over the past two years they've had some substantial wins.

In September 2020, the enactment of legislation AB 1950, REFORM says, will decrease California’s probation population by 33% over the next five years, and prevent over 48,000 prison admissions due to technical probation violation. REFORM says the bill is widely considered the most transformative probation reform in the nation.

REFORM also said it helped pass new laws in Michigan that will decrease overall probation caseloads by 8.4%.

In Louisiana, the group says, it pushed for the first bill in the country to create a remote reporting system for people on probation. This has long been an issue because people on probation are often forced to leave work to report to probation officials. Sometimes they also need to find childcare. If they can't do these things they can technically violate probation. 

The organization also said it distributed 12.5 million masks and PPE to prisons across America and made them available for use by the incarcerated population, correctional officers and others in state, federal and private facilities.

There are some people, really wealthy people, who give to causes because it looks good, or because they get a tax break. The impact they have is minimal because their heart isn't truly in it.

That's not the case with REFORM. Their accomplishments are tangible and the group has the advantage, unfortunately, of one of its founding members having gone through the system.

"I'm dedicating my life to making the prison system more humane," said Mill. "I won't stop."

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