Philadelphia native Meek Mill joined fellow rapper Jay-Z, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Sixers co-owner Michael Rubin and a group of criminal justice activists to launch a new organization.
They came together in New York City on Wednesday to announce the launch of an organization that will lobby for changes to state probation and parole laws.
The Reform Alliance will be led by Van Jones, a CNN host and activist who at one point served as an adviser to former President Barack Obama.
Sixers co-owner Michael Rubin said the group is dedicating $50 million to the effort. The alliance leaders also encouraged others to give their time and money to the cause of criminal justice reform with the hope of changing hearts and minds.
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The alliance wants to diminish the amount of people in the criminal justice system by one million over the next five years.
Kraft spoke about how he had trouble sleeping after he visited Mill in prison and saw what life behind bars is really like.
"I'm one of the lucky ones, we have people who don’t have a voice," Mill said Wednesday. "I’m here to speak on behalf of those people who don’t have a voice."
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Mill, whose real name is Robert Williams, became a symbol for criminal justice reform activists after a judge in Pennsylvania sentenced him to 2-4 years in prison for minor violations of his probation conditions in a decade-old gun and drug possession case. He spent months in prison before a court ordered him released.
The performer said the Reform initiative "is one of the most important things I've ever done in my life" and that he's speaking "for people who don't have a voice."
About 2.2 million people in the U.S. are incarcerated, and about 4.5 million are on probation or parole, according to government statistics.
"If you thought my case was unfair, there are millions of others dealing with worse situations and caught up in the system without committing crimes," said Mill, who will remain on probation until 2023. "With this alliance, we want to change outdated laws, give people hope and reform a system that's stacked against us."
Jones said the Reform Alliance is taking aim at the cycle of probation and parole violations that leads people back to prison.
"That is the revolving door that keeps people back in and back in and back in," Jones said. "We're going to dismantle that revolving door."
Kraft said the current system "is not good for America."
"We can make America better if we really cure this problem," he said.