John Legend acknowledges that we are all just ordinary people, but the way we penalize non-violent crimes isn’t quite so. The singer/songwriter penned a piece for TIME dedicated to his views on America’s mass incarceration and the so-called “War on Drugs.”
“We lock up far more people per capita than any nation even close to our size: roughly 2.4 million men, women, and children. The financial toll of mass incarceration is irresponsible; the human toll is unconscionable,” Legend wrote.
READ: Obama Becomes First Sitting President to Go Inside a Federal Prison
Legend’s childhood is what brought the Grammy-awarded singer towards the topic of convicted addicts in the first place. He came from an addict mother and connects his grandmother’s death towards his mother’s mental decline. Additionally, he criticizes the justice system for their mishandling of sick, not dangerous, Americans.
“No one grows up wanting to be a drug addict any more than anyone grows up wanting to be a diabetic or an alcoholic. Sure, people’s choices play a role in falling prey to those sicknesses, but those choices are often constrained by the mentally and emotionally debilitating effects of poverty,” he wrote.
Like President Obama, the singer investigated what lies behind prison walls. A past visit to an American correctional facility gave Legend insight on a teen addict and abuse victim’s imprisonment and the many just like him failed by the system. Last week, Legend took a look at Portugal’s criminal justice system for comparison (July 16). He wrote, “It was like stepping through a looking glass—but into a more just system.”
Portugal considers drug-related offenses as misdemeanors, and has for the last 14 years. If the teen addict were Portuguese, he would have dealt with medical professionals instead of solitary confinement, employment in the prison’s farm instead of more abuse, and other treatment Legend referred to as “humane and tranquil.” He points out that lower rates of drug-use and drug-related death in Portugal have been reported since the system’s change.
Even with the work of Obama, Legend admits that there is more to be done and calls upon Americans to differentiate between “addict” and “felon.”