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Meek Mill, Gov. Wolf urge criminal justice reforms

Associated Press | 5/3/2018, 6:10 p.m.
Just one week after a court ordered his immediate release from prison, Philadelphia-born rapper Meek Mill joined Pennsylvania's governor on ...
Rapper Meek Mill speaks during a news conference promoting Gov. Tom Wolf's proposals to reform the criminal justice system at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Thursday, May 3, 2018. Wolf, Mill and several state legislators spoke in favor of reforms. (Tim Tai/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

PHILADELPHIA — Just one week after a court ordered his immediate release from prison, Philadelphia-born rapper Meek Mill joined Pennsylvania's governor on Thursday in calling on state lawmakers to enact criminal justice reforms.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said Mill's case had thrust issues in the state's system into the national spotlight. They appeared at the Constitution Center alongside a half-dozen state lawmakers and 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin.

Mill, who turns 31 this weekend, said his lawyers had advised him not to speak publicly. But after serving five months of a two- to four-year sentence on a probation violation related to a decade-old gun and drug conviction, he felt compelled to discuss his case and issues he encountered in the system.

"I actually know the errors of the criminal justice system personally because I've been tangled in the system since 18 years old," he said. "I actually made a commitment to speaking for the voiceless. I spent time with these men and women, and watched families being broken apart because of drug addiction, mental illness, technical violations."

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered Mill's immediate release on bail from prison after prosecutors said they agreed with his lawyers that he should get a new trial because of questions raised about the arresting officer. The now-retired officer was among a list of police officers the prosecutor's office has sought to keep off the witness stand in cases across the city because of credibility questions.

Since his release, Mill has spoken out about the need for reform. He noted Thursday that in Philadelphia even coming in contact with the police can trigger a technical violation for probation.

Wolf added his voice Thursday by reciting his wish list of initiatives to reform the system, including measures to increase parole supervision and provide fair sentencing. He is also seeking funding for indigent defense, clearer pathways to expunging criminal records and a way to achieve uniformity in the state's probation and parole revocation process.

A recent study by the Columbia University Justice Lab found Pennsylvania had about 296,000 people on probation and parole, the third highest rate in the country.

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association issued a statement Thursday cautioning state lawmakers and the governor not to use one person's experience to "indict an entire system."

"We caution against the wholesale elimination of appropriate consequences and accountability in the criminal justice system cloaked in the concept of reform," association President John Adams wrote in an emailed statement. -- (AP)