While being born Black in America has routinely meant being thrust into a world of suspicion, there is another statistic that is also increasingly lopsidedly African-American: Probation violation. On Monday, rapper Meek Mill became one of the latest Black people to be snatched up by the long arm of the law thrown into prison, getting sentenced for violating the terms of his long standing probation.
While the rapper is “no angel” and has routinely been busted for illegal activities despite being a high profile, wealthy celebrity, the fact that he has been ensnared in the justice system for the better part of a decade is not an anomaly.
“Black probationers were revoked at higher rates than white and Hispanic probationers,” according to a study on racial disparities for probation published by the Urban Institute in 2014. In Philadelphia, where Meek is from and was sentenced Monday, jailing for probation violations have reportedly grown steadily in recent years.
“Hundreds of thousands are on probation or parole in Pennsylvania; the state has the second-highest rate in the country, after Ohio,” the Atlantic reported. “About 44,000 are in Philadelphia alone.”
It should be noted that the city’s population is 44 percent Black, according to the most recent Census statistics.
In Meek Mill’s case, his 2008 arrest for guns and drugs have haunted him ever since, Philly.com reported. First came an eight-month prison term; then came five years of probation; then came another five months for violating those terms; that added almost another 10 years of probation, which he would go on to violate at least two more times before “he was arrested for doing wheelies and other stunts on a dirt bike on [New York City] streets and then posting video about it online.”
Probation violations across the country are affecting Black lives in ways unimaginable, especially the father who was prevented from donating his kidney – a 100 percent match – to his toddler son who was born without any of the organs. The reason? The father was arrested for parole violation.
In Virginia, “More whites than blacks who are charged with probation violations get a break when they go before circuit court judges, the Daily Press reported in 2015.
“In Rhode Island, 13 out of every 100 black adults are in prison or on probation, while only 2 out of every 100 white adults are,” the Providence Journal reported.
Certain states (not Pennsylvania, clearly) have begun to tackle what appears to be an epidemic of probation violations that lead to hefty prison terms, which typically lead to more state supervision upon release, creating a higher probability of repeated violations and incarcerations, not rehabilitation.
“Shorter terms and fewer conditions for probation allow people to become more productive citizens,” Marcus Hodges, president of the National Association of Probation Executives, told Governing earlier this year.