The need for strong, independent local journalism
is more urgent than ever. Please support the city we
love by joining Friends of Willamette Week.

Grammy-Winning Musician John Legend Once Again Weighs In on Oregon’s Criminal Justice Policies

Last year, Legend tweeted that then-candidate Mike Schmidt was the “clear choice” for Multnomah County district attorney.

For the second time in a year, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter John Legend has offered an endorsement of criminal justice reforms in Oregon.

On Friday morning, the Oregon-based voting rights group Next Up tweeted a video of Legend in which he thanks Next Up, as well as the Oregon Justice Resource Center, for championing the voting rights of prison inmates.

"No one stops being a citizen or a mother or a father when they are incarcerated," Legend says in the video. "Seventy-five percent of the women in Oregon prisons are mothers. They have children who are affected by the decisions that elected officials make. Restoring the right to vote is a simple but incredibly powerful way to keep people connected to their communities."

According to Next Up, Legend was urging support for Senate Bill 571 and House Bill 2366, which both seek to allow people incarcerated in Oregon prisons to vote.

"In Oregon, 9% of incarcerated people are Black, whereas Black people are only 2% of the state's residents," Legend continued. "Oregon's law preventing people in prison from voting dates to the 1850s when the state constitution was created with the clear intention of creating a state for white people, with exclusionary laws against Black, Asian and Native people."

Isabela Villarreal, policy and communications manager for Next Up, says the organization connected with Legend through his own criminal justice-focused group, FREEAMERICA, which "aims to shine a light on the injustices of mass incarceration," according to its website.

This isn't the first time Legend has weighed in on Oregon politics.

Last May, ahead of the primary election, he offered a last-minute endorsement for Mike Schmidt, who was then a candidate for Multnomah County district attorney.

Schmidt, who went on to win the DA's race with 76% of the vote, told The Oregonian last year that he didn't have a connection with Legend, and that he wasn't expecting the endorsement in which the songwriter called him the "clear choice" for district attorney.

Next Up said in a statement Friday that it was "delighted" to see Legend voice his support.

"Mr. Legend understands that citizenship doesn't end at the prison gate, and that Oregonians in prison shouldn't be denied the opportunity to participate in our democracy," said interim executive director Kenya Juarez. "We encourage legislators to take the time to listen to what John Legend has to say about how his own family has been impacted by the justice system and reflect on how many of the Oregon families they represent are in the same situation."