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John Legend Heads to the Lege to Drum Up Support for Criminal Justice Bills

Sarah Montgomery for KUT
Musician John Legend spoke at the Texas Capitol yesterday along with other lawmakers including Houston Democratic Sen. Rodney Ellis.

John Legend is well-known for his music. He’s won Grammys and, most recently, he and Chicago rapper Common won an Academy Award for the original song “Glory” from the film Selma. During his acceptance speech, Legend used the podium to draw attention to the high incarceration rate in the U.S.

Yesterday, he came to the Texas Capitol to continue that advocacy and kick off a national campaign called Free America, which aims to drop the country’s incarceration rate.

“They say everything is bigger in Texas,” he said. “Yes, unfortunately that extends to the state’s correction system as well. Texas puts too many people behind bars.”

Legend is urging support for community programs that could handle some offenders better than prisons and jails. He said penalties are too harsh for small amounts of marijuana possession, and he brought up bills that would decriminalize kids missing school, suggesting the state should “stop making it a crime for children to skip school or run away or break curfew.”

On Wednesday, the Texas Senate approved a bill that would fine students for skipping school rather than handing down a misdemeanor charge. Only Texas and Wyoming still criminalize truancy. Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a similar bill last legislative session.

Other bills being considered include one that would put 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system, but opponents, including some Democrats, say the state’s juvenile justice system doesn’t have the resources or infrastructure to take on these 17-year-olds.

Legend’s other stops include California and Washington, D.C.

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