Politics & Government

Grammy winner John Legend performing concert at women’s prison in Purdy Thursday

In this photo from the state Department of Corrections’ Twitter feed, singer-songwriter John Legend is shown while touring the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Purdy on Thursday, April 7, 2016.
In this photo from the state Department of Corrections’ Twitter feed, singer-songwriter John Legend is shown while touring the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Purdy on Thursday, April 7, 2016. Department of Corrections

Singer-songwriter John Legend will perform live at the Washington Corrections Center for Women Thursday afternoon as part of his campaign to reduce incarceration rates in the United States.

The Grammy-Award winning artist will begin performing at the women’s facility in Purdy at 2:15 p.m. The performance will be streamed live on Legend’s Facebook page.

The concert is part of an effort Legend launched last year called “Free America.” The website for the campaign says it is looking “to change the national conversation about our country’s misguided policies and transform America’s criminal justice system.”

Jeremy Barclay, spokesman for Washington state’s Department of Corrections, said Legend contacted the department to set up the concert in Purdy partly because the state has strong programs in place for rehabilitation.

Legend spent time before the afternoon concert touring employment and skills training programs at the women’s prison, Barclay said.

“We were viewed as more of a model for him to see and to bring attention to other states across the nation,” Barclay said.

“While Washington is No. 41 in the nation for incarceration rates, there are 40 states above us that incarcerate people more, and he’s trying to bring attention to that.”

While accepting an Oscar for Best Original Song last year, Legend called America “the most incarcerated country in the world,” noting that in the United States, more black men were in prison or under correctional supervision in 2015 than were enslaved in 1850.

Legend won the Oscar along with Common for their work on the song “Glory,” which appeared in the movie “Selma.”

Charity Jackson, a spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO, said the organization worked for months with Legend’s team to organize the event. Three unions that fall under the AFL-CIO umbrella are part of an apprenticeship program at the Washington women’s prison, she said.

She said the organization shares Legend’s view that prisoners need a way to get a job after they are released, “which can be hard.”

“We just want to shine a light on how there is a better way to have a criminal justice system, in a less drastic way than it is now,” Jackson said.

Barclay, the corrections department spokesman, said the agency didn’t publicize the concert widely to “preserve our state resources for public safety purposes.”

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1

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