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Patriots owner calls for criminal justice reform after visiting Meek Mill in prison

"This guy is a great guy. Shouldn't be here," said the New England Patriots owner.

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 18:  (L-R) Ricki Noel Lander, Snoop Dogg and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft attend the NBA All-Star Game 2018 at Staples Center on February 18, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 18: (L-R) Ricki Noel Lander, Snoop Dogg and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft attend the NBA All-Star Game 2018 at Staples Center on February 18, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a close friend of President Donald Trump who donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural fund and personally called to thank Trump for the new tax bill, visited rapper Meek Mill behind bars, and advocated for criminal justice reform. 

It’s official. We are living in a Mad Libs.

“He’s an amazing young man,” Kraft told reporters outside the State Correctional Institution-Chester in Pennsylvania. “I know how I’d feel if I were in the situation he is. He’s very intelligent.”

“I’ve had the pleasure, through (entrepreneur friend) Michael (Rubin), getting to know him over the last two to three years — maybe even longer. Every time I see him, I just come away more impressed. It makes it clear to me we have to do something with criminal justice reform.”

Mill’s imprisonment is a stark example of how corrupt our criminal justice system is. Last November, Mill was sentenced to two to four years in state prison for violating probation from a 2008 charge for drug dealing and gun possession. His violations? A fight at an airport in St. Louis (for which the charges were dropped) and a reckless driving charge for doing wheelies on a dirt bike. The sentence imposed by Philadelphia Judge Genece Brinkley was actually harsher than the sentence recommended by the prosecutor.

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“It’s unfortunate that he is suffering the outcome that he currently is. However, it’s quite typical of the way in which our criminal justice system responds to crime, but also the way that system functions on a daily basis,” Bill Cobb, the deputy director for the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, told ThinkProgress in December regarding Meek Mill’s ongoing saga. “The way that it is designed, there are these roadblocks and these barriers that are really drivers that increase recidivism, and that don’t positively contribute to public safety.”

Many current and former NFL players have also advocated for Meek Mill’s release, including former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is currently being blackballed from the NFL because of his protest during the national anthem to raise awareness for police brutality and systemic oppression — including institutionalized racism within the criminal justice system.

Kraft hasn’t publicly condemned Kaepernick’s protest, but he has been deposed in Kaepernick’s collusion lawsuit against the NFL.

“It’s really bad,” Kraft said when talking to reporters about Mill. “I know some of our players in the NFL have talked about this. I see it firsthand. It’s just wrong. We have to find a way to correct it and also help the community help themselves. It’s just sad. This guy is a great guy. Shouldn’t be here. And then think of all the taxpayers here paying for people like this to be in jail and not out being productive.”

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This isn’t the first time that Kraft has found himself at odds with Trump. Last September, when Trump referred to any NFL player who took a knee during the national anthem as a “son of a bitch” during a rally, Kraft publicly expressed his disappointment in the president’s “tone.” Last month, he donated a Patriots plane to fly families impacted by gun violence to the “March for Our Lives” rally in Washington, D.C.

However, make no mistake about it — Kraft advocacy for criminal justice reform flies directly in the face of the policies of Trump’s administration, and the heated rhetoric of Trump himself.

Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Attorney General, has ordered federal prosecutors to pursue the most aggressive charges possible in every case, and he rescinded an Obama-era policy discouraging federal marijuana prosecution in states where marijuana is legal. Trump and Sessions’ Justice Department has also stopped commuting sentences for low-level drug offenders, reduced investigations into police corruption, and recommenced the use of private, for-profit prisons.

Donald Trump famously advocated for the death penalty for five minority teenagers in New York City who were wrongfully convicted for a sexual assault that occurred in Central Park in the late 1980s. Even after DNA exonerated all five defendants and the real perpetrator admitted to the crime, Trump continued to insist they were guilty as late as 2016. In stark contrast, he demanded due process for his former staffer Rob Porter earlier this year after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct.

So, while it’s great for Kraft to be speaking up for Mill and others treated unfairly by the justice system in the United States, he might find it more productive to support and vote for politicians who are serious about reform. That might get in the way of a tax cut, though, so it’s a tough call.