After a probation-reform bill became Pennsylvania law last Friday, chart-topping rapper Meek Mill teared up and a key music-business advocacy group echoed his support.

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“We are definitely happy about these results,” says Prophet, co-founder, president and CEO of the Black Music Action Coalition, a group of attorneys, artists, label executives and managers formed in 2020 to address racism in the industry. “No laws have completely given us what we need, but these are huge steps. If I were a governor in any state, I’d be looking at what Pennsylvania did and following suit — especially in an election cycle.”

In 2008, just as his music career was taking off, 18-year-old Mill was sentenced to prison for a drug and firearm conviction. A court overturned the ruling 11 years later, and earlier this year, Pennsylvania’s then-governor, Tom Wolf, pardoned him for the original charges. Mill, who lives in Philadelphia, has been on probation for much of his life, and has advocated for criminal-justice reform for years. After Gov. Josh Shapiro signed the legislation Friday, the rapper spoke of not being able to pick up his son from school in New Jersey due to parole regulations. “They labeled us felons,” he said at Friday’s ceremonial bill-signing. “I had to fight against that the whole time to gain my respect and be who I am today.”

The new Pennsylvania law passed a bipartisan state senate vote last Thursday, despite opposition from the ACLU, which said it will “risk making probation worse.” The law, known as Comprehensive Probation Reform, requires probation reviews after either two years or half of a misdemeanor sentence, or four years or half of a felony sentence. It also urges judges not to send people back to jail for minor technical parole violations.

“We all learned from Meek’s case because it shined a light on the injustices in our probation system,” Shapiro told reporters after signing the law.

In addition to praising the new Pennsylvania law, the BMAC’s Prophet predicted the result will inspire artists, people of color and young people to be more politically active. “What that does is trigger the alarm to many young people, a base that for the most part is either uninspired or not engaged, to see that they actually have political power,” he says. “The Black vote saved the 2020 election. We haven’t gotten a lot in return. Now the Democrats and the Republicans are going to be held to a level of accountability that hasn’t been seen before.”

“People are inspired. People are saying, ‘Look, Meek just changed the law,’” Prophet adds. “It’s that sort of simplicity of the process that inspires people.”

Marc Schneider
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