Today, REFORM Alliance co-chairs recording artist Meek Mill, Philadelphia 76ers partner and Fanatics executive chairman Michael Rubin, and REFORM Alliance CEO Robert Rooks joined Governor Ralph Northam, Justice Forward Virginia, American Conservative Union, and Faith and Freedom in Virginia at an event to officially sign into law HB 2038— a legislative victory that will significantly reduce the state’s probation population, curb recidivism, and make supervision more effective, while increasing workforce stability and community safety.
“I try to balance the lines of being classy, still keeping the ear of younger people, still being able to speak to the Governor and being able to close gaps like Michael Rubin and take it as far as we can take it to better other people’s lives,” said REFORM co-chair Meek Mill at the event. “I have the resources and I’m in position to do better to help.”
“This is a historical moment and day in Virginia history and the history of fixing the completely broken criminal justice system,” said REFORM co-chair Michael Rubin. “Thank you to everybody here who has worked so hard to make this happen. Thank you for your work in fixing the underlying laws that are broken so we don’t keep putting people who don’t commit crimes back in prison. Like the Governor said to me when I walked in, this is a team sport and that’s exactly what this incredible coalition here in Virginia is.”
The new law in Virginia – which takes effect on July 1, 2021 – will implement caps on probation terms by limiting adult probation sentences to a maximum of one year for misdemeanor offenses and five years for felonies. Prior to passing HB 2038, Virginia was one of only seven states with no such restrictions, resulting in endless extensions to probation terms that kept people unjustly trapped in the criminal justice system.
HB 2038 will also implement graduated sanctions, meaning that instead of sending a person back to prison the first time they commit a technical violation— things like being late to a meeting with a probation officer or failing to report changing jobs— will no longer result in a person’s probation being revoked and landing them back in prison for years. The new law will provide much-needed relief to the catastrophic consequences people on probation face as a result of technical violations. 40% of Virginia’s total prison population is incarcerated due to supervision violations.
“Our criminal justice system has focused too much on punishment, and too little on grace and compassion,” Governor Northam said. “Putting people behind bars for minor violations of probation simply exacerbates the problem of mass incarceration, increases costs to the state, and makes it more difficult for people to rebuild their lives. This legislation marks an important step forward in our ongoing work to ensure Virginia’s criminal justice system is fair and equitable.”
“This legislation is a meaningful step forward toward building better pathways for Virginians stuck in the probation trap, and sets a positive example for what can be done in other states across the country,” Robert Rooks said. “I applaud Governor Northam’s leadership in signing legislation into law that will reunite families, prevent unnecessary incarcerations, reduce taxpayer burden and give life back to thousands of Virginians.”
The REFORM collaboration in Virginia originated when Justice Forward Virginia and the bill’s author Delegate Don Scott, who is also system impacted, tweeted at REFORM founding partner Meek Mill asking for support on Scott’s criminal justice bill. Meek publicly agreed to assist and dispatched the REFORM team to partner with Scott – who joined forces with the advocacy groups – to collectively drive the bill forward. Delegate Don Scott, the bill’s author and sponsor, was also in attendance at the signing ceremony.
“We are talking about criminal justice but really I look at this as economic justice,” Delegate Don Scott said. “When you keep someone from being able to maximize their God given abilities, you have all of this talent sitting in a jail cell. People told me that I would never be an attorney. They were wrong. Told me that I’d never practice law. They were wrong. Told me don’t run for office, keep quiet and keep your head down. You should be ashamed and embarrassed. They were wrong. I paid them no mind. That’s why we are here today. We can let our kids know that you can make a mistake. You can fall down and come back and be stronger than ever.”
“Over the past 18 months, Virginia has done more to reform its criminal justice system than any state in the country, and despite flying under the radar during the General Assembly session, this legislation just might be the centerpiece,” said Brad Haywood, Founder and Executive Director of Justice Forward Virginia. “It takes direct aim at mass supervision, which drives mass incarceration in Virginia — 51% of new Department of Corrections prison admissions are for probation violations, and nearly 60,000 Virginians are on probation or parole, roughly double the state’s prison population. Delegate Scott shepherded this bill through the legislature masterfully, and we were thrilled to play a role in advocating for its passage.”
The victory in Virginia comes on the heels of REFORM’s previous legislative wins in Michigan, Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, and California that helped to transform the parole and probation systems in those states. REFORM Alliance is working with partners to introduce legislation to reform policies at the federal level in the coming weeks. People can sign up to take action with REFORM at: reformalliance.com/actions.
About REFORM Alliance:
REFORM is committed to transforming probation and parole throughout the United States by changing laws, systems, and culture. The organization is working to replace America’s criminal justice system with a restorative approach that is fair, accountable and invested in rehabilitation. Our goal is for people to reenter society with dignity, create meaningful pathways to work and equip them with the tools to succeed all while making families and communities safer and stronger.
The nonprofit organization was founded in the wake of the #FreeMeek movement by Grammy-nominated recording artist Meek Mill; Philadelphia 76ers partner and Fanatics executive chairman Michael Rubin; Arnold Ventures co-founder Laura Arnold; entrepreneur and business mogul Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter; Kraft Group CEO and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft; Galaxy Digital CEO and founder Michael E. Novogratz; Vista Equity Partners founder, chairman, CEO Robert F. Smith; Brooklyn Nets co-owner and philanthropic investor Clara Wu Tsai; and CNN host and activist Van Jones. Veteran criminal justice advocate Robert Rooks leads the organization as CEO.
© 2021, Seth Barmash. All rights reserved.