The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday to release rapper Meek Mill from prison, where he had been held for the past five months for violating his terms of probation, underlines the need to end the “punitiveness” of the state’s mass supervision system, says reform advocate Vincent Schiraldi.
“Although the High Court’s action should be applauded, 296,000 people are still on probation and parole in Pennsylvania—almost the population of Pittsburgh,” Schiraldi, a former probation commissioner in New York City who now co-directs the Columbia University Justice Lab.
“They were filling Pennsylvania’s jails and prisons yesterday, and will continue to do so tomorrow and the day after that, until policymakers reduce the size and punitiveness of mass supervision in Pennsylvania.”
The jailing of Mill, 30, spurred a massive protest after a judge revoked his probation last November for “technical violations” that included testing positive for drug use, new arrests for low-level crimes (one for popping a “wheelie” on a dirtbike and one for a fight), and failure to abide by travel restrictions. He had no new criminal conviction.
His release coincides with a new Justice Lab report which found that Pennsylvania has the nation’s third-highest combined rate of community supervision (probation and parole). The parole supervision rate alone is three times the national average: 1,109 per 100,000 vs. 350 per 100,000.
One out of every 22 adults in Philadelphia are under probation or parole supervision, more than double the national average, the report said.
“This extraordinarily high rate of mass supervision is fueling an inflated rate of jail and prison incarceration,” wrote Schiraldi, the author of the report.
“Probation and parole were designed to give people second chances and a hand up to lead productive lives in the community, not to serve as trip wires to reincarceration for violations as minor as missing an appointment with a parole officer.”
The report recommended that Pennsylvania policymakers shorten probation and parole terms, and focus community resources on the first few years of supervision—when they have the greatest impact.
Schiraldi added that Pennsylvania’s high rate is only the most egregious example of a nationwide misuse of community supervision.
In August, 2017, the nation’s leading probation and parole supervision administrators signed a “Statement on the Future of Community Corrections” which called the system a significant driver of mass incarceration.
Brent Cohen, interim CEO of JustLeadership USA, said the report illustrates the “failed model of mass supervision” in the U.S.
In another comment on the report, Keir Bradford-Grey, chief defender of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, called probation an “invisible net that ensares a large population of our city, mostly people of color.”
She added, “For far too long, we have turned a blind eye to this stark reality, and now we are all paying the social and economic price.”
On the eve of his release, Mill, winner of the 2016 Billboard Music Award for Top Rap Album, tweeted that the past five months in jail “have been a nightmare.”