John Legend says USA has a lot to learn from Portuguese prisons

American singer-songwriter John Legend says the USA has a lot to learn from Portuguese prisons.

His words followed a visit to the Santa Cruz do Bispo prison in Matosinhos, on the same day the musician was going to perform at the MEO Marés Vivas festival in Vila Nova de Gaia (July 16).

“We have a lot to learn from countries like Portugal, which work in a smarter way, with fairer initiatives and better rehabilitation programmes for ex-drug addicts,” said the singer, known for chart-topping hits such as ‘All of Me’, ‘You and I’ and the award-winning ‘Glory’. This year he also won an Oscar for ‘Best Original Song’ in the film Selma.

During his visit, Legend was seen speaking to many prisoners about music, rehabilitation programmes and football.

His motto is that prisons should focus on “rehabilitating convicts and helping them be reintegrated in society” – a philosophy Legend believes is being closely followed at the Santa Cruz Prison.

In fact, the R&B/Soul singer praised one of the projects in place at the prison, which gets prisoners involved in the agriculture and livestock business.

For example, around 1,500 litres of cow’s milk is produced at the prison every week.

Other projects include ‘Casa de Transição’, an initiative that tries to promote the social reintegration of people with mental issues, as well as the ‘Unidade Livre de Drogas’, which offers prisoners education ranging from 4th to 9th grade.

Legend says the prison is “more humane, healthy and committed to providing its prisoners with a better life” than the jails back in the US.

“In the US we have too many solitary prisons, too many inhumane conditions, too many children incarcerated and sentences that are too long for everything,” the singer said.

Besides his musical talent, Legend is known for trying to end mass incarceration in the USA, having this year created an initiative entitled ‘Free America’. Data shows that the US accounts for around 25% of the world’s prisoners.

Licínio Lima, sub-director of Portugal’s prison authority (DGRSP), said that Legend’s visit “encouraged us to continue our good practices, investing stronger in prisoners’ rehabilitation and less in imprisonment”.

By MICHAEL BRUXO [email protected]