Political Scientist Keith Reeves '88 on Need for Criminal Justice Reform

Keith Reeves '88

CNN.com: Is Meek Mill a poster child for mass incarceration? What the outrage is all about

Meek Mill's supporters have slammed his two-to-four-year prison sentence as excessive, but others have argued that Mill -- a celebrity who has violated the terms of his probation several times -- knew what he was getting into and should not be the poster child for mass incarceration.

However, for the rapper's supporters and activists, it is not a question of whether Mill made mistakes by violating his probation, but about whether the 30-year-old rapper should still be on probation for a gun and drug crime he committed at 18.

Dr. Keith Reeves ['88], a professor of political science at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, who has taught and mentored inmates for 14 years, said the rapper's sentence crystallizes a sentiment in the community that the criminal justice system needs to be reformed.

Reeves teaches a college course on crime and punishment issues inside the state correctional institution in Chester, Pennsylvania -- a medium-security prison where Mill is serving his time.

"I think for lots of African-Americans or whites, who seem to believe that the criminal justice system is unfair and is punitive, they look at the Meek Mill case and see this is someone who's wealthy and a celebrity and is treated this way, then what about me, who doesn't have the means and the celebrity and the fortune and the fame?" Reeves said.

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Reeves said Mill's situation is not uncommon and that probation restrictions often "follow folks for two to three decades, long after they're done their time and paid their debt to society."

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Keith Reeves '88 is an associate professor and chair of political science and the director of the Urban Inequality and Incarceration program at the College's Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility. He teaches courses across the arenas of American government, electoral politics, and public opinion; racial politics and voting rights policy; the urban underclass, poverty, and public policy; and behavioral research methods. Reeves is a former Henry Luce Scholar and the author of Voting Hopes or Fears?: White Voters, Black Candidates and Racial Politics in America (Oxford University Press). He is working on a book project that explores several controversial explanations underlying the high incarceration trends among black males.