John Legend Spotlights Fight Against Youth Incarceration


Youth First!, a newly launched national advocacy campaign to end youth incarceration, welcomed John Legend to Washington, DC late Friday afternoon, April 24th, for the first stop on his #FREEAMERICA tour to focus on youth incarceration.

At The Achievment Center, a juvenile justice facility that is a part of the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, Youth First’s CEO Liz Ryan briefed the group on the fight to end youth incarceration and what comes next. After, John joined a tour of the facility and spoke with kids who have served sentences in youth jails or are currently on probation, and took time to hear music created by kids at the facility.

“All around the country, I hear stories of children who look like me being labeled as criminals for doing the kinds of things that children do,” said John Legend to the room of advocates and young people. “The fight for educational equality is deeply tied to the system of incarceration– which all too often begins in our schools. Kids who act out in even minor ways, which once would result in a visit to the principal, now results in a trip with the cops and time in cages. That’s why we launched the #FREEAMERICA campaign.”

“The US is the world’s largest incarcerator of children, and we have to stop it,” said Liz Ryan in her briefing for John Legend. Ryan is CEO of Youth First, a new national initiative to end youth incarceration and redirect resources towards effective community programs for youth. “Rather than rehabilitating young people, we simply set them on a pipeline to prison when we incarcerate them. We won’t stop fighting until it ends.”


On any given night, approximately 60,000 young people are confined in youth prisons or other out-of-home placements, most of whom are there because of social service needs. Youth First wants to change that by closing all youth prisons and redirecting those resources to community services that helps young people who would otherwise end up behind bars succeed.

Just last week, John Legend launched #FREEAMERICA, a multi-year culture campaign to amplify the growing movement to end mass incarceration. As part of the #FREEAMERICA initiative, which will expand to include other artists and high-profile individuals committed to justice reform, John Legend will lead a listening and learning tour across the country visiting with incarcerated individuals, law enforcement, legislators, and experts who’ve been thinking critically about America’s prison problem.

Youth First is a new national initiative to end youth incarceration and redirect resources towards effective community programs for youth. Find out more at


  1. What a great way for him to use his fame to draw attention to an issue that really needs to be addressed. However, I am not sure I fully support closing ALL youth jails, as honestly, there will always be bad seeds that think they are above the law. Otherwise, I think this is an amazing campaign!

  2. I truly wish I knew what the answer is to this issue. I would love to see resources directed to community services but I am not totally sold on the idea of closing all youth prisons.

    Prison isn’t the answer for many so I am open to hearing more about the alternatives.

  3. I love John Legend. This is a great campaign for him to be involved in. We need to help our kids not lock them up.

  4. Its such a shame that kids are being discriminated – and locked up – because of their skin color and its so important to speak out about this and find solutions for the problem on a social level. Good to see celebrities like John Legend getting involved in such an important social issue. Hopefully the campaign will help spread awareness!

  5. Sounds like a great campaign. Kids going to jail is really a big problem. I like John Legend and happy to know that he is raising awareness about this issues. I hope this campaign helps in bringing a solution on this.

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