On Saturday afternoon, Snoop Dogg, Weldon Angelos and Mark Holden took the stage at the Austin Convention Center. The trio came together not to discuss music, but instead, the importance of criminal justice reform.
Angelos, a former music producer, was sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 55 years in prison after selling around $900 worth of marijuana to an undercover informant on three separate occasions. The lengthy jail time given was due to an accusation that Angelos was carrying a firearm during his deals.
“He had to provide means for his family and himself,” Snoop Dogg said. “It wasn’t like it was a violent crime he was committing – he was just hustling.”
Due to an overwhelming amount of support and outrage, Angelos was released after serving 13 of his 55-year sentence.
But Mark Holden, senior vice president and general counsel of Koch Industries, Inc, said not everyone is that fortunate.
“We decided to treat a poverty and public health issue like a criminal issue,” Holden said. “They decided we would lock people up for long periods of time regardless of the circumstances of their situation.”
In Angelos’ case, the judge who handed down his sentence later expressed remorse for having to do so. Angelos said the amount of power that resides in the hands of prosecutors is unfair, and judges should have more say in the rulings they must give.
“Prosecutors hold all the discretion which is why we need to hand more discretion back over to the judge, who is the only neutral case participant,” Angelos said.
For Snoop Dogg, criminal justice reform has been a longtime passion. Snoop Dogg said he’s felt the impacts of the prison system as both a friend of those who have been wrongfully incarcerated and from being incarcerated himself.
“Now that I have a voice, it’s my job to bring some awareness,” Snoop Dogg said. “I’m from the hood, so I’ve got to go back to the hood and do certain things that keep my relationships straight with brothers who have been wrongfully locked up.”
Though many issues have divided the left and right side, Holden said criminal justice reform is something all parties can benefit from.
“This is an issue that everybody needs to work on together,” Holden said. “Democrat, Republican or Independent it doesn’t matter. There’s something for everybody here no matter what you believe in.”