Music mogul Jay-Z, rapper Meek Mill, and several professional sports team owners and asset managers on Wednesday launched a $50 million criminal justice reform effort aimed at revamping laws to reduce the number of people on parole or probation.
In 2017, a Pennsylvania state court sentenced Mill to two to four years in prison over a parole violation. Mill was released after several months. The incident was the catalyst for the initiative dubbed the REFORM Alliance, which Mill will co-chair with Michael Rubin, co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Mill, 31, was convicted on now-questioned gun charges in 2008 and imprisoned over parole violations multiple times before the controversial sentence that sparked a public outcry. He told the audience at the launch event on Wednesday that he hopes to help others across the country who have found themselves in similar situations.
"I'm one of the lucky ones, even after all I went through," Mill said. "I'm here to speak for the people who don't have a voice."
Jay-Z, whose given name is Shawn Carter, owns the company that manages Mill and is creating a documentary on his experience. Jay-Z is a co-founder of REFORM along with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Brooklyn Nets co-owner Clara Wu Tsai.
From the financial world, hedge fund founder Daniel Loeb, private equity investor Robert Smith and crypto-focused merchant bank founder Michael Novogratz are also on board as founders.
Rubin and others depicted the larger goal as a nonpartisan effort to not only further the cause of social justice but also to reduce the economic impact that incarceration has on the country's taxpayers and workforce.
Detailed plans for the $50 million in funding were not announced on Wednesday. However, the participants said initial goals include changing the laws that govern probation and parole and highlighting the stories of people whose lives were changed for the worse because of being jailed over violations such as leaving home without permission, missing a check-in with a probation officer or even drinking too much water and being accused of trying to influence the results of a drug test. The organization will not hand out grants and generally won't hire lawyers to represent defendants.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf attended the event, as did district attorneys from Albany and Brooklyn, New York, and Cook County, Illinois.
Also in attendance was Jesse Litvak, the former Jefferies Group bond trader who was tried twice on federal securities fraud charges. The Second Circuit reversed guilty verdicts each time, and prosecutors ultimately decided not to retry him. Along the way, Litvak started to look for ways to be involved in criminal justice reform.
"I've seen too much to not help," Litvak told Law360 after the event.
Litvak doesn't have a formal role with the organization at this point but said he looks forward to helping in any way he can.
--Editing by Janice Carter Brown.
Update: This story has been updated with additional detail.
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Jay-Z, Meek Mill, Team Owners Launch Parole Reform Group
By Jody Godoy | January 23, 2019, 9:13 PM EST