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Celebrities Taking on Criminal Justice Reform - Does it Matter?


Over the last couple of years, we've seen numerous prominent celebrities use their platform to promote-not their latest role or beauty product-but rather their stance on the criminal justice system. Big names like Kim Kardashian, Jay-Z, Meek Mill, Sylvester Stallone, and Alyssa Milano have become vocal on issues regarding prison reform in particular.

One prominent initiative celebrities have gathered around is #cut50. The initiative states it that aims to "reduce the prison population while making our communities safer." The list of celebrities backing this initiative includes comedians Amy Schumer, George Lopez, and Nick Cannon, actors Mark Ruffalo, Juliette Lewis, and Cedric the Entertainer, as well as NBA superstar Steph Curry, just to name a few.

#cut50's co-founder Van Jones, a recognizable face in the criminal justice realm and the entertainment industry, has also made headlines of his own recently with news of Kim Kardashian joining his San Franciso-based law firm as an apprentice. Many questioned the legitimacy of this move and whether celebrities should be involved in efforts to end mass incarceration.

It's Not New But It's Making News

Celebrities speaking out about the criminal justice system certainly isn't new but one of the main reasons it's become more-widely discussed as of late has a lot to do with social media. Using their Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts has allowed celebrities to voice their personal stance and draw in their respective audiences. Many of their followers may have not been aware of the laws surrounding prison reform.

We saw this unfold on Kardashian's Twitter account when she first tweeted about Alice Marie Johnson in 2017 who at the time was serving a life sentence for a first-time, non-violent drug offense. Following that tweet came Kardashian's push for President Trump to grant Johnson clemency. Johnson was on a petition with 16,776 others filed in the 2014 clemency project but her application was denied. Following Kardashian's appeal, on June 6, 2018, Johnson was pardoned and released.

Since Johnson's release, Kardashian has helped free 17 other inmates who were eligible for the narrow provision that allowed them to go back to court.

Other Voices Drawing Attention to the Criminal Justice System

In 2008, rapper Meek Mill was sentenced to 11 to 23 months in prison for drug dealing and gun possession. Following his release from prison, Mill began working on REFORM Alliance, a nonprofit with the mission of changing the criminal justice system, specifically the laws and policies regarding probation and parole. Using his first-hand experience to tackle the matters, Mill has made his efforts primarily about "giving a voice to the voiceless." Along with fellow rapper Jay-Z, the two have joined forces to bring issues concerning legislation to prevent re-incarceration and placing a spotlight on the inequalities surrounding the black community when it comes to incarceration. Mill has said, "The system is basically targeted at people that look like me."

Other examples of celebrities using their name to draw attention to issues concerning criminal justice reform include Charmed actress Alyssa Milano. Milano, a longtime activist recently began speaking out on matters surrounding prison reform, which many saw play out in the leadup to now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's nomination. Just scroll through her Twitter account and you will find several series of Tweets on women facing violence in prison, advocating for the release of black mothers and caregivers who can't afford bail, re-posting stories about children who aren't able to see their parents because they're behind bars, and those incarcerated because of income or health reasons. Milano also recently began hosting a podcast called Sorry Not Sorry where she discusses the criminal justice system in America as well as prominent issues like gun control and violence toward women specifically protecting victims of sexual assault.

If They Weren't Talking Would We Be?

There's a unique aspect to celebrities using their platform to highlight criminal justice reform. They are able to draw in people who may not be following the latest changes or know about longstanding laws that deem change. So while people may be questioning their qualifications or legitimacy to speak out on these issues, we do know that their voices have allowed other audiences to tune-in and advocate for change. And using their platform as a means of advocating for real change is something that celebrity or not, is a good thing.

If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges in the El Paso area, please connect with us today. The Rosales Law Firm is committed to protecting the rights of individuals battling charges within the criminal justice system.

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