Criminal justice reform in the United States has been long overdue for the Black community. It is not surprising that racial bias still exists in the justice system, because the rate at which Black Americans are incarcerated is alarming. According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the United States makes up approximately five percent of the world’s population and 21 percent of the world’s prisoners. If one stops and thinks about this statistic and the racial bias that happens within the criminal justice system, how many of those prisoners do you think are Black? African-Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of white people. Also, the imprisonment of African-American women is twice that of white women. Racial injustice within this system needs to be addressed, and rappers Jay-Z and Meek Mill, along with sports and business leaders, seek to find ways to see it happen.
The initiative that Jay-Z and Meek Mill are striving to put forth is one that could help change the way the criminal justice system is framed, and shift the perspective around racial bias. Both rappers were in attendance at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York to announce the formation of REFORM Alliance, an organization that strives to reduce the number of people serving unjust parole and probation sentences. As an organization, they plan to use the resources they have- business, government, entertainment, and sports leaders- to change laws, policies, change perspectives on prison reform and bring awareness to the issue. According to their website, the U.S. criminal justice system controls the lives of 6.6 million people by imprisoning them or keeping them on probation and parole. In the past, both have been vocal about prison reform and why the criminal justice system needs change.
For those who don’t know, Meek Mill served time in prison for violating his probation on a drug and gun case. This took place back in 2008, when he was sentenced to 2-4 years in prison. In 2017, he was arrested for his involvement in an altercation and for popping wheelies on a dirt bike. To be arrested and sentenced to jail time for something like this is excessive in my opinion. However, through the power of social media and the hashtag FreeMeekMill, Mill was released after having served only five months in prison. The movement itself helped to bring attention to his sentencing and it’s extensiveness. According to sources on social media, his sentence was originally 10 years of probation. Many celebrities took to social media to advocate for his release, and joined in on the hashtag as well. In an article by Time, civil rights advocates say they have been fighting to bring attention to the issue of millions of convicts- many of those being Black individuals- who fear returning to prison because of minor probation violations.
Prison sentences in the United States have been known to be disproportionate towards Black people. The effects of prison are alarming, and racial disparities towards prisoners shouldn’t go unchecked.
According to the NAACP, A criminal record can reduce the likelihood of a callback or a job offer by nearly 50 percent. For Black people, the impact of having a criminal record is twice as large. It’s important that Black people are able to find jobs after being incarcerated to become financially stable again. The fact that these numbers are so disproportionate further proves that there are racial biases being used in the criminal justice system.
In 2012, the United States spent $81 billion on correctional facilities. There are problems beyond prison that have been created for Black people who are incarcerated. These problems lead to negative perspectives on their lives and well being which doesn’t help them regain their place in society afterward.
The prison industrial complex still does not acknowledge Black people, and repeatedly fails us in many ways. Changes are needed in how the prison system sees our lives beyond what is on a criminal record. Of course, those who commit serious crimes should go to jail, but there is disproportionality regarding prison sentences given towards Black people, and racial biases that cannot be ignored. Initiatives like this one by Jay-Z and Meek Mill could have a serious impact on how the criminal justice system moves forward in the future. Initiative could lead to changes to its framework which would be incredibly needed.