Pennsylvania’s prison population has increased 850 percent over the last 40 years, maintaining the highest incarceration rate in the entire Western Hemisphere.
On average, there are 80,000 Pennsylvanians in prison on any given day.
Rapper Meek Mill, a Philadelphia native, has first-hand knowledge of this statistic.
“I hate [that] it had to be me, to go to jail,” said Mill as he stood at a podium on April 2 at Thomas Paine Plaza. “A rapper or a public figure [needs to go] to jail, for it to become an issue but it is an issue and this is where were are.”
Standing alongside state House Democrats and Republicans to introduce a new bipartisan bill to reform parole and probation systems, Meek spoke on behalf of REFORM Alliance, a criminal justice reform organization he launched with hip hop mogul, Jay-Z in January. CNN news commentator Van Jones and 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin, both REFORM Alliance founders, were also in attendance.
“This proposed bill is the first step in changing the criminal justice system, and it’s only right that we start in my home state,” Mill said, who was sentenced to two years in state prison but was incarcerated for just over five months inside SCI Chester over a probation violation last year. “I’ve lost too much time away from my son, my family, my friends and fans in Philly because of outdated probation laws, so I want to make sure people don’t have to go through what I did.”
Spearheaded by state Reps. Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia) and Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland), House Bill 1925 would prevent consecutive probation sentences, prohibit extending probation or parole time as a consequence of an inability to pay fines and fees, and create an incentive program for good behavior.
Intended to be introduced to the floor this session, the bill would additionally prevent re-incarceration for testing positive for marijuana while under supervision, associating with a person with a criminal history or traveling outside allowed jurisdiction.
“Out of all 50 states, Pennsylvania has the second highest percentage of citizens on probation and parole,” Harris said at the press conference. “These lengthy probation sentences are unnecessary and only hold down people who are trying to right their lives and become productive members of society again.”
While the statistics remain high, Pennsylvania decreased its prison population by more than a thousand people or roughly 2.2 percent, according to CSG Justice Center. Legislatively, Pennsylvania enacted the Clean Slate law to seal criminal records of certain cases last year.
Probation or parole reform has also been making headway on a local level with District Attorney Larry Krasner’s recent initiatives, such as announcing an internal policy that shortens supervision times and sending a letter to all Common Pleas and Municipal Court judges to be more lenient on probation sentences.
Another positive sign for the future of prison reform was the bipartisan nature of House Bill 1925. Although State Rep. Mike Jones (R-Pa.) of York County told Philadelphia Weekly that Republicans made concessions on the issue of caps on probations and that some of the bill’s language is still being “tweaked,” the bipartisan effort ran smoothly.
“I think first and foremost, it’s just the right thing to do from a moral perspective and a freedom perspective, but it’s also good business,” said Jones. “With our country being so divisive right now, I welcome any opportunity to work on a bipartisan basis and try to bring people together.”