Voices

Jay-Z, Meek Mill And Van Jones Launch Effort To Slash US Prison Population

Rappers Jay-Z and Meek Mill announced Wednesday they are launching a new criminal justice reform organization aimed at dramatically reducing the number of people in the US prison system.

The group all met on Wednesday, Jan. 23, at a New York City press conference to talk about the new organization, which will work on shifting state probation and parole laws.

The group pooled together $50 million among themselves to help advance the cause, and one of their aims is to get one million people off probation or parole within the next five years.

The group’s creation comes less than a year after Mill, 31, was released from jail after his unexpectedly heavy sentence for a parole violation sparked protests over racial biases in US probation laws.

REFORM Alliance is putting an initial $50 million toward “disabling the revolving door of probation and parole,” by “changing the laws, policies, and practices that perpetuate injustice,” according to its mission statement.

“We want to be very clear — if someone commits a crime they should go to jail,” hip hop superstar Jay-Z said. “But these things are just disproportionate and the whole world knows it.”

Black people are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of white people in the United States, according to the NAACP civil rights organization.

“We come from the bottom,” said Jay-Z, who grew up in Brooklyn public housing. “We’re all prisoners to this, because until everyone is freed, no one is freed.”

Well before he ascended to rap stardom, Mill was jailed on drug and possession charges in 2008 — and re-imprisoned in 2017 after a Philadelphia judge handed down a term of two to four years for a parole violation.

His incarceration triggered public outcry, and Mill’s case became a flashpoint in the national conversation over the US criminal justice system’s treatment of black people.

REFORM’s current goal is to free one million people from the system in the next five years, with an initial focus on parole and probation.

Along with Mill and Jay-Z, founding partners of the group include CNN commentator and justice advocate Van Jones, who will serve as the organization’s CEO.

“This is not a right or left issue, it’s a wrong or right issue,” Jones said. “We’re going to free a country to be its best self.”

The act includes provisions to ease heavy sentences for certain offenders and gives judges more discretion in sentencing low-level criminals.