John Legend is proving that there are some musicians out there who are staying abreast of social issues plaguing the U.S. On Monday the Oscar-winning singer announced his new initiative, Free America, as part of his efforts to end mass incarceration.
To kick off his program, Legend on Thursday plans to visit a prison in Austin, Texas, during a trip that will also include a press conference with legislators to discuss the grim statistics behind Texas' criminal-justice system.
"We have a serious problem with incarceration in this country," Legend said in an interview. "It's destroying families, it's destroying communities and we're the most-incarcerated country in the world. And when you look deeper and look at the reasons we got to this place, we as a society made some choices politically and legislatively, culturally, to deal with poverty, deal with mental illness in a certain way, and that way usually involves using incarceration."
According to the Associated Press, Legend will also visit a state-run California prison and partner with Politico to host an event in Washington, D.C. Legend's campaign will also include other artists and organizations who want to end mass incarceration.
"I'm just trying to create some more awareness to this issue and trying to make some real change legislatively," he said. "And we're not the only ones. There are senators that are looking at this, like Rand Paul and Cory Booker; there are other nonprofits that are looking at this, and I just wanted to add my voice to that."
Legend also noted that a small victory for Free America was the passage of Proposition 47 in California last fall. The law changed the way crimes such as shoplifting, forgery, fraud, petty theft and possession of small amounts of drugs were categorized. Instead of being felonies, they are now considered misdemeanors.
"Once you have that tag of a felony on your name, it's hard for you to do anything," Legend said. "Getting those reduced to misdemeanors really impacted a lot of lives, and we hope to launch more initiatives like that around the country."
Earlier this year, during Legend's Oscar acceptance speech, he took the opportunity to speak out about mass incarceration, saying that the U.S. is "the most-incarcerated country in the world" with "more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850."