On November 7, The Prisons and Justice Initiative, in co-sponsorship with The Georgetown University Lecture Fund and The Georgetown Radio, welcomed rapper Meek Mill to Georgetown University. This memorable event, which drew a crowd that packed Lohrink Auditorium, featured a conversation between Meek and PJI Director Marc Howard about the flaws in the criminal justice system, Meek's personal involvement, and pathways to reform. Meek's involvement with the criminal justice system began back in 2007 when he was arrested on gun and drug charges. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to serve 11 to 23 months in county prison, but was released after 5 months, placed on house arrest, and sentenced to 5 years probation. Over the course of what has now turned into almost a decade of probation, some of Meek's arguably minor infractions have not only kept him under court supervision, but also landed him back in prison. In 2017, Meek was charged with reckless endangerment for popping a wheelie on a dirt bike and sentenced to serve 2 to 4 years in prison. Since 2007, Meek has had the same judge, who refused to recuse herself after allegations of misconduct and unfair bias towards him.
This sequence of events birthed the #FreeMeekMill movement, which drew attention from supporters in the music industry such as Rick Ross, T.I, and Jay-Z, who wrote an op-ed in The New York Times detailing the ways in which young black boys like Meek are systematically preyed upon by the criminal justice system. As a result of public pressure, the election of a new District Attorney in Philadelphia, and several months of appeals, Meek was released from prison in April 2018. He remains on probation.
Though Meek's story drew national attention due to his fame and notoriety as a successful rapper, it is in no way unique. As Meek highlighted during this event, hundreds of thousands of Americans, overwhelmingly those of color and low socioeconomic status, are sitting behind bars due to systematic barriers intended to keep them there. He shared personal stories of other men he met while incarcerated, vowing to continue to serve as a voice for the voiceless and use his platform to shed light on the injustices throughout our system, as well as tirelessly advocate for much needed reform.