Why criminal justice reform is personal for superstar John Legend

John Legend on criminal justice reform

Last Updated May 11, 2017 10:12 AM EDT

John Legend is launching a new initiative called Unlocked Futures in the fight for criminal justice reform. Before his upcoming tour, the 10-time Grammy Award winner opened up about why this issue is important to him on a personal level.

"We are the most incarcerated country in the world. We have 5 percent of the world's population, and we have 25 percent of the world's prison population. That means we lock up people at a higher rate than any other country in the world," Legend told "CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King.

"But people say, 'Look, John, they broke the law. Shouldn't they be in prison? Breaking the law is a choice you're making, too,'" King said.

"But laws aren't handed down from God," Legend said. "These are laws that we, as society, have decided upon. We can change those laws. If we over-punish, we can decide, as a society, that we've over-punished. We sentence children in America to life without parole. No other country does that. We don't have to do that."

ctm-0511-john-legend-criminal-justice-reform.jpg
John Legend CBS News

In 2015, the R&B superstar launched Free America, an initiative focused on bringing awareness and change to issues involving mass incarceration. 

"Every time we lock someone up, it's a choice we're making. We're saying, 'We're gonna invest dollars into keeping people in cages,' or we could have invested that money into making their communities better, making them safer, healthier and better educated so they were never in trouble in the first place," Legend said. "So many communities and families have been destroyed. I've personally seen the effects of incarceration on my own family and my community."

"My mother had an issue with drugs when I was younger and she was in and out of jail during my teenage years," Legend added.

"I've never heard you talk about that," King said.

"I've talked about it a little bit in this context of saying when people have drug problems, and we know that that the opiate crisis is challenging a lot of communities around America. And I think a lot of families know that when people have drug problems, what people don't really need is a lot of punishment, they need a lot of help," Legend said. 

Legend is wasting no time taking action with the recently-launched Unlocked Futures, a program that will invest in business and entrepreneurial ideas for people who have been released from prison.

"We're going to provide some money to seed some entrepreneurs who have come out of prison and want to change their lives," Legend said. "They've developed a skill while they've been in prison. And we want to give them a chance to innovate, to work, to create jobs themselves, for themselves, and for other people in their community."

He's not just helping them get a job, he's giving them a chance at owning their own business.

"You made the Time 100 List this year, in part, because of your work in this in this area. Harry Belafonte wrote your intro. … What did you think about that?" King asked.

"I was really honored. And I've known Mr. Belafonte for years now. And I've been inspired by him for years even before that," Legend said. "He's done some amazing things in his life. And he's made a lot of great music and great entertainment for people. But he also, throughout his career, was committed to justice. He was marching with Dr. King. He was helping to fund these marches that were that are now iconic. And he's always been an example of an artist who used his platform to make change. And I look at that kind of artist as an example for me of the kind of artist I want to be."

Legend recently released his fifth studio album, "Darkness and Light." He calls it his best and most personal. He says he is excited to share it with fans on his upcoming tour. He and supermodel wife Chrissy Teigen are planning to use their preferred method of travel, a good old-fashioned tour bus. 

"I've been doing my tour bus since I started in this business. And I enjoy being on a tour bus. It's like – it's a very luxurious tour bus," Legend said.

"It's sort of like a rolling home," King said.

"Yes, exactly. And now it has a crib," Legend said.

The song that John Legend sings to his daughter

That new amenity is for one year old baby Luna. Legend says being a dad has given his politics a greater purpose, and he's enjoying every single step of first-time parenting. 

"What's your favorite nickname for her?" King asked.

"I call her Luna a lot, just because I feel like I don't want to over-nickname her, 'cause I feel like her name is her name and we want to call her that. We call her Luna, Lulu. We call her Looney Tunes sometimes," Legend said.