Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a probation overhaul bill into law on Thursday, approving the state’s latest progressive criminal justice proposal alongside rapper and activist Meek Mill, who backed the legislation.
Northam, a Democrat, was joined by Mill in Richmond as he signed into law HB 2038, which limits the amount of active incarceration a court can impose as a result of a revocation hearing for a probation violation, according to the bill.
Mill has been advocating criminal justice revisions since he was sentenced to prison for violating parole on a previous conviction. The Philadelphia district attorney lifted Mill’s probation in 2019 after most of his adult life had been spent under court supervision, CNN previously reported.
“I’ll make sure I’ll be able to deliver and close every bridge I can to help fix the system, because I was affected by that,” Mill said before Northam signed the legislation.
The probation overhaul follows a series of progressive criminal justice bills passed over the past two years in Virginia, which has enacted a slate of progressive laws since Democrats took control of the state legislature and governor’s mansion. In 2020, Northam outlawed no-knock warrants and in April he legalized simple marijuana possession, making Virginia the first Southern state to do so.
Northam said during Thursday’s bill signing that he’s focusing on the changes because the criminal justice system has been inequitable for far too long.
“Too many crimes bring lengthy sentences that outweigh the severity of the offense, and that has resulted in far too many people, particularly too many people of color, in our prisons and jails,” he said.
“While none of these policies will end the problems of mass incarceration on their own, every step forward matters,” the governor added. “And the step we’re celebrating today is indeed a very important one.”
Virginia also made history in March, when Northam signed legislation abolishing the death penalty, making the commonwealth the first Southern state to repeal the punishment since the US Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976. That law is set to go into effect in July.