The organization’s mission is to “[advance] criminal justice reform and [eliminate] outdated laws that perpetuate injustice, starting with probation and parole.”
Activist and former Obama advisor Van Jones has been appointed as CEO of REFORM, while Meek Mill’s longtime friend, Philadelphia 76ers co-owner chairman Michael Rubin, will serve as the organization’s chairman. Other founding board members include New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Brooklyn Nets co-owner Clara Wu Tsai.
The group is committing $50 million to launch of the organization.
At a press conference announcing the launch of REFORM, Rubin noted that 6.6 million individuals are currently in the US criminal justice system, including four million people who are on probation. “Our rate of incarceration is more than five times higher than the rest of the world,” he went on to point out.
Jones will oversee the organization’s mission to “drastically reduce the number of people who are under control of the criminal justice system while keeping communities safe by changing laws and public opinion.”
“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Jones said. “I have spent my entire adult life preparing myself to help lead an initiative of this magnitude. I’m looking forward to working with this powerful group of founders to disrupt the status quo and shift the criminal justice system landscape for generations to come.”
Meek Mill’s own case has brought national attention to issues of sentencing and probation in the criminal justice system. In November 2017, the rapper was sentenced to two-to-four years in prison after Judge Genece Brinkley determined that he was in violation of his probation. Mill’s attorneys said the sentence was unjust and accused the judge of showing “enormous bias” against the rapper. They alleged Judge Brinkley of making inappropriate demands in private, including requesting that Mill give her a shout-out in a song and requesting that he leave his management at Roc Nation in favor of Philadelphia music figure Charlie Mack, of who she was an associate. The FBI subsequently launched a probe into the allegations.
Beyond the alleged misconduct of the judge, Mill’s sentencing was seen as emblematic of the country’s broken criminal justice system and its unfair treatment of black adult men. In an op-ed published to the New York Times, JAY-Z argued that Mill’s case was “just one example of how our criminal justice system entraps and harasses hundreds of thousands of black people every day.” Specifically, JAY-Z took issue with probation, or as he called it, “a land mine, with a random misstep bringing consequences greater than the crime. A person on probation can end up in jail over a technical violation like missing a curfew.”
In Mill’s case, his probation stemmed from an 11-year-old case. The charges that led to his “violation” were minor in nature — he was arrested for popping a wheelie on a motorcycle on the set of a music video — and were later thrown out. What’s more, both the prosecutor and the parole officer recommended no additional jail time for Mill. Judge Brinkley disagreed, however, unilaterally deciding Mill’s actions warranted a minimum of two years in prison. Even after the allegations of misconduct surfaced, the judge refused to recuse herself from the case and denied Mill’s repeated requests for bail, saying he was “a danger to the community.”
Fortunately, in April 2018 the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania overturned Brinkley’s decision, citing questions regarding the credibility of the officer who original arrested Mill in 2007. The court also noted that prosecutors were not opposed to Mill’s release.