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Still Not Free: the Meek Mill case is hardly unique

The FBI is investigating the judge who sent Meek Mill back to prison for minor probation violations from almost nine years ago.

in Criminal Justice Reform
Meek mill

Against the recommendation of the assistant district attorney and the probation officer, Judge Genece Brinkley sentenced Robert Rihmeek Williams, who uses the stage name Meek Mill, to 2–4 years in prison for insignificant probation violations from a nearly decade-old case from 2009. Mill was arrested twice but hadn’t been convicted of any new crime; both cases were eventually dropped or dismissed.

Mill owned up to the violations in his only statement during the hearing and said that jailing him would likely end his musical career. The hip hop artist has battled addiction to the prescription painkiller Percocet and says he has only ever tried to escape a life of crime. Nothing about Mill is a risk to public safety. In fact, he’s contributed to society through his community service and activism. Mill’s lawyers have made strong allegations against Brinkley regarding personal bias against Mill. And now, news has broken that she is under investigation by the FBI for possible “extortionate demands.” FBI undercover agents have been monitoring her court proceedings in Meek’s case dating back to April of 2016.

Judge Brinkley made it hard for Mill to live a normal life while on probation by limiting which cities he could travel too, many of which were a part of his tour. In 2014, Brinkley ordered Mill to take etiquette classes and put him in jail for five months—where he spent most of the time in solitary confinement—for performing in a state without getting her permission to travel there.

Mill has been on probation since he was 19 years old. He’s now 30 and has been under the strain of the state his entire adult life—and his situation is not uncommon. One out of every 3 people in Pennsylvania prisons are there because of a probation or parole violation. The state has the second highest rate of people on probation or parole in the country, and Philly has the highest incarceration rate of the 10 largest U.S. cities, with half of the people sitting in jail because of probation or parole violations.

The system is essentially waiting for opportunities to re-incarcerate Black people and people of color.

Judge Brinkley is notorious in Philadelphia for doing just that: following people on probation and parole and calling their status into review without any credible evidence that they even violated. On top of that, she has one of the highest rates of sending people to prison for probation violations. She’s part of a system that is terrorizing and entrapping Black people every day.

Probation is supposed to be an alternative to prison that allows people to move on from their mistakes and make a better life—but, in actuality, it is state surveillance, sometimes for decades. Offenders are given restrictions, called “conditions,” that must be adhered to on penalty of violation of probation. Probation violations are treated harshly by our system, yielding tougher punishments for minor infractions—like being late to meetings, traveling out of town for work, and sometimes even being homeless—that you would never see prison time for if you weren’t on probation in the first place.

Mill’s is just a high-profile example of what’s happening to millions of men and women of color around the country. These petty parole/probation violations are one of the biggest drivers of mass incarceration—and they disproportionately affect Black people. One-third of the 4.65 million people who are currently under state supervision are Black, and African-Americans are twice as likely to have their parole or probation revoked. The criminal justice system over-polices, over-incarcerates and under-invests in minority communities. In Hawaiʻi, the same thing is true of Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Filipino communities.

Hundreds of people have shared similar stories under the hashtag #StillNotFree in the wake of Mill’s sentencing.

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