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R&B singer John Legend has been a fierce advocate for criminal justice reform. The Ohio native is furthering his efforts to reduce recidivism and provide support for the formerly incarcerated and others whose lives have been directly impacted by the flawed criminal justice system. According to Forbes Legend—whose real name is John Roger Stephens—recently announced that there would be a second cohort for the Unlocked Futures project.

The initiative is a collaborative effort between Stephens’ Free America campaign, the venture philanthropy fund and social innovation organization New Profit, and Bank of America. The 14-month accelerator program was designed to empower inmates who want to become social entrepreneurs. Throughout the program participants learn about everything from marketing to acquiring talent to grow their businesses. Each individual that completes the program receives a $50,000 grant to further their ventures. Projects that were developed in the first cohort include Clean Decisions, a commercial cleaning service that employs ex-offenders and a platform called Flikshop which gives inmates the ability to receive mail from their loved ones through an app.

“We started this as a collaboration, saying, ‘Let’s not just tell folks to hire formerly incarcerated individuals, but to invest in their ideas,’” said Stephens in a statement. “All of the members have business ideas that will help them feed their families, employ others and strengthen our communities.” He added that assisting formerly incarcerated individuals in reintegration has tremendous value.

Programs like Unlocked Futures are needed. Research shows that nearly 76 percent of inmates go back to jail within five years. “Unlocked Futures recognizes that entrepreneurship is a pathway for people who have been affected by the criminal justice system to earn a family-sustaining income and build a career,” read the initiative’s website. “People whose lives are affected by the criminal justice system have unmatched expertise and insight into where the system can be improved for better outcomes.”


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