From inspiring a new criminal justice reform bill to announcing the formation of his Reform Alliance non-profit, Meek Mill's work to advocate on behalf of those unjustly caught up in the criminal justice system has not gone unnoticed.
While the rapper's work has garnered universal praise across the board, a new development has some raising an eyebrow regarding the source of one donation in particular.
The donor of the $5 million contribution had previously remained under the radar until an investigative report by SPIN, published on Thursday (Feb. 28) revealed that the funds in question came from the country's largest provider of software in the "public safety" market.
In other words, one of the founding partners of Meek Mill's organization, whose board includes Philadelphia 76ers owner Michael Rubin, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb and others, is a man named Robert Smith whose business dealings support prison infrastructure, something that goes against the key foundation of Reform Alliance.
As reported, Smith, runs Vista Equity Partners, which is a private equity firm that owns over 50 software companies, including CentralSquare. The software company sells tools that aid officers, prisons and fire agencies, as well as offers software for tax collection, community development and other municipal agencies. CentralSquare's also offers a management suite called "Jail Enterprise," which helps users to "run even the largest correctional facilities like clockwork." The tools it provides include simplifying the inmate booking process, integrating criminal records and monitoring inmate activity. The goal of the company's offerings is to "enhance an agency's daily productivity and improve officer safety."
According to a representative, Smith whose net worth is an estimated $4.4 billion, did in fact make a $5 million donation to support Meek's criminal justice reform organization. The representative also noted that he will play an advisory role and will not be involved int the day-to-day operations.
"Both Robert F. Smith and the REFORM Alliance want a strong and efficient criminal justice system that is also unbiased and just," the statement on behalf of Smith read. "Providing public sector agencies with management tools helps ensure a greater degree of accountability for public safety and stronger community engagement. The REFORM Alliance believes in a criminal justice system free from bias, and access to good data is critical. Software in this case is helping to achieve these aims."
Considering the goal of Reform Alliance is to "dramatically [reduce] the number of people who are unjustly under the control of the criminal justice system," Smith's involvement raises some questions.
"We can't deny the fact that this is still a partner with a profit interest in the carceral system, and that being so, an organization that's dedicated to decarceration should at least have to explain why this is not a partnership that should worry potential supporters," Sharon Dolovich, faculty director of the UCLA School of Law's Prison Law and Policy Program, shared with SPIN.
Van Jones also commented on the matter in a statement, but didn't quite touch on the possible contradictory nature of Smith's involvement.
"To have more safety in our communities—and more fairness in our courts—the criminal justice system needs to get a lot smarter," Jones shared with SPIN. "Where software can help take bias out of the system and assure accountability, it can play a positive role. That's why REFORM encourages innovation in technology and data science—both in the public sector and in private companies. We need more innovation and smarter use of data, not less."
At the time of this report, a representative for Meek Mill has not yet issued a statement.