Rapper Meek Mill wiped away tears while speaking at a probation reform bill signing ceremony in Pennsylvania Friday — saying the new law would help ex-cons like him lead normal lives after prison.
“We all grew up in the streets. We try to be better but they label us ‘felons,’ sent us back to jail,” Mill, 36, said through shakey breaths.
“I had to fight against that the whole time, to gain my respect and be who I am today. And I’m proud of that.”
The criminal justice reforms, signed into law by Gov. Josh Shapiro Thursday, include limiting probation lengths, sealing a higher amount of criminal records from public view, requiring probation reviews after at least two years and creating incentives, rather than punishment, for ex-cons upon returning to their lives.
The law also slashes a list of minor technical violations for non-violent offenders that would have previously landed them in jail, such as showing up late to appointments, returning home after curfew, leaving the state without permission or missing fine payments they are unable to afford.
Mill, whose real name is Robert Rihmeek Williams, helped lead the reform charges after spending most of his adult life on probation following a 2008 conviction for drug and gun charges.
He was initially sentenced to five-years parole after serving seven months in prison, but he was repeatedly thrown back behind bars and handed longer probation punishments for violating his probation, much of which stemmed from minor technical infractions.
One such violation landed Mill a two-to-four-year prison sentence in 2017, only five months of which he served, prompting his motivation to use his story to “shine a light” on the criminal justice system.
“Every time I crossed the Ben Franklin [Bridge] to go pick my mom up to take my son to school in New Jersey, I was actually committing crime the whole time from technical violations. And I didn’t have any way to get around that because I already was in jail my whole 20s,” the Dream Chasers Records President said, growing emotional.
“My son seen me in prison and I wanted to take my son to school. So I thought that is either I’m gonna go to jail or I’m gonna take my son to school and I ended up taking my son to school.”
Mill was finally pardoned in 2023 — 15 years after his criminal saga began.
Despite the reforms, judges are still permitted to “stack” probation sentences and impose probation after incarceration under the new law, according to the ACLU. which accused the bill of failing to provide an automatic or efficient way to end probation early.
Probation is required to end unless the defendant commits a crime that demonstrates that they are a threat to public safety, has not completed certain treatment or has not paid restitution under some circumstances.
With Post wires