Meek Mill joins Gov. Shapiro for signing of Pennsylvania probation reform and clean slate legislation

The legislation offers a second chance for citizens caught in the cycle of the criminal justice system.

Meek Mill stands in front of a crowd of people, with Gov. Shapiro and other elected officials in the background

Meek Mill, a rapper and advocate for justice reform, thanked lawyers and lawmakers at a press conference that signed probation reform into law in Pennsylvania on December 15, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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Pennsylvania’s probation requirements are changing under a pair of bills signed by Gov. Josh Shapiro at the Constitution Center Friday afternoon. He also signed a measure to automatically clear criminal records for individuals who receive a pardon.

Shapiro was joined by Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill, who has advocated for probation reform for years after he was harshly punished for his probation violation in 2017. Mill was sentenced to two to four years in prison for violating his probation related to a 2008 gun and drug case.

Pa. Governor Josh Shapiro signs a bill as people look on
Pa. Governor Josh Shapiro signs justice reforms bill 898 into law surrounded by activists and other lawmakers at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on December 15, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Mill is co-chair for the REFORM Alliance, which has fought to change what they call the “supervision-to-prison” pipeline. He spoke tearfully at times Friday about the struggle returning citizens often face maintaining the probation restrictions put in place.

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“Every time I [crossed] the Ben Franklin to go pick my mom up to take my son to school in New Jersey, I was actually committing a crime the whole time from technical violations,” he said.

“I didn’t ask for this position. I don’t want to do it. It’s not for clout. It’s something that I stand for. It’s something that I live for, and I appreciate y’all for helping me.”

The legislation requires mandatory probation review conferences after two years or 50% of a probation sentence, whichever is shorter. It also calls for felony probation reviews after four years or 50% of the sentence.

It also clarifies for judges that minor technical violations of a probation sentence should not cause someone to be sent back to jail. That means things like showing up late for an appointment, returning home after curfew, or visiting family out of state without permission should not result in a return to jail. Instead, the legislation says confinement should only be used for “serious” violations, for failing to complete court-mandated treatment, or for someone considered a threat to public safety.

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Shapiro said the legislation is designed to be “more fair for all Pennsylvanians.”

“We all learned from Meek’s case because it shined a light on the injustices in our probation system,” Shapiro said. “How someone could be sentenced to prison for years for not committing a crime, but for just a technical violation of a long probation.”

Pa. Governor Josh Shapiro thanked advocates at a press conference
Pa. Governor Josh Shapiro thanked advocates who helped to pass a probation reform bill into law at a press conference at the National Constitution Center on December 15, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

On Wednesday, Shapiro signed a bill that would expand the kinds of convictions eligible to be sealed from more public view. That includes things like minor drug felonies and some property-related felony offenses.

Nine other states have adopted similar legislation.

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