SALISBURY – The nation’s prisons are filled with people who broke probation or parole by visiting a loved one, attending a family barbecue or for picking up their children from daycare.
For recording artist Meek Mill, it was popping a wheelie that caused a judge to sentence him to up to four years in prison, sparking the popular #FreeMeek movement and eventual docuseries on Amazon Prime by the same name.
Meek, who served five months before being released, decided to use his power to take action for the millions more who are incarcerated for technical probation violations.
He, along with Michael Rubin, a partner of the Philadelphia 76ers, and Grammy award-winner Jay Z, among other world-class philanthropists, founded Reform Alliance, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to transform probation and parole by changing laws and systems.
The group will hold a Criminal Justice Reform Day on the campus of Livingstone College on March 23, signaling the launch of their partnerships with historically black colleges and universities across the country. The all-day event will include lunch on the lawn with students, featuring EarthGang, a hip-hop duo under the Dreamville Records label; and a town hall meeting open to the public.
The town hall meeting will begin at 3 p.m. at Varick Auditorium and include Robert Rooks, Reform’s CEO; Daryl Atkinson, co-director and co-founder of Forward Justice; Karen Boykin-Towns of American Airlines Community Council; Livingstone SGA President Justin Wade; and a representative from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the AME Zion Church.
Georgette “GiGi” Dixon, head of External Relations for Wells Fargo, will serve as moderator for the program. The meeting will include questions from the audience.
During the luncheon on the lawn, member of Reform Alliance and EarthGang will interact with students and provoke their interest in criminal justice reform. Rooks; Louis Reed, senior director of membership and partnerships; Britton Smith, senior organizing strategist; and EarthGang will bring remarks.
The day will culminate with a dinner for criminal justice majors with Reform at the Event Center. Criminal justice is the largest major on the campus of Livingstone College.
According to Reform’s website, there are 6.6 million people in the United States’ criminal justice system and 4.5 million of those are on probation or parole. Probation and parole failures account for 45 percent of all state prison admissions.
“Right now people under probation or parole make up the vast majority of our criminal justice system, yet the issue has received relatively little attention,” Reform says. “Our probation and parole programs were originally intended to hold people accountable and serve as an alternative to incarceration. But they have become a leading contributor to jail and prison populations. Essentially, they are a set-up for re-incarceration.”
Dr. Latarcia Barnes, interim chair of criminal justice and sociology at Livingstone College, is a former probation and parole officer. “I think this is a great opportunity for our students because it will allow them to have a different aspect of the criminal justice system. They are the future and to have this program come to our campus will inspire them to make changes,” she said.
“This day of engagement will be an eye-opener for our students and our broader campus community as it relates to the expansive prison industrial complex and the policies that perpetuate their existence,” said Dr. Anthony Davis, Livingstone’s senior vice president and chief executive officer.
Since its inception in 2019, Reform has had some major wins. It worked to pass three bills in California; a package of supervision reforms in Michigan and Georgia; and reforms in New York that led to the immediate release of 200 people held for technical parole violations.
Mills was also awarded the Nelson Mandela Changemaker Award in 2021 for his work with Reform.
“We are honored that Reform Alliance chose Livingstone College to launch its partnerships with HBCUs. We welcome this opportunity that affords us to be a part of a national conversation in addressing criminal justice reform,” said Livingstone President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr.
To learn more about Reform and its work, visit its website, reformalliance.com