Rapper Jay-Z sues Miss. state prison system

The lawsuit claims inmates 'are dying because Miss. has failed to fund its prisons'


Christopher Harress
Alabama Media Group

JACKSON, Miss. — Rap superstar Jay-Z filed a lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Corrections Tuesday on behalf of nearly 30 prisoners, claiming inmates are being subject to inhumane, violent and unconstitutional conditions that has led to the death of five people over the last two weeks.

The lawsuit names Mississippi State Penitentiary Superintendent Marshall Turner and outgoing department of corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall as defendants, according to court records.

Rapper Jay-Z filed a lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Corrections Tuesday, alleging a lack of state funding has resulted in violence and unsafe conditions. (Photo/AP)
Rapper Jay-Z filed a lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Corrections Tuesday, alleging a lack of state funding has resulted in violence and unsafe conditions. (Photo/AP)

"Plaintiffs' lives are in peril," said the lawsuit. "Individuals held in Mississippi's prisons are dying because Mississippi has failed to fund its prisons, resulting in prisons where violence reigns because prisons are understaffed. In the past two weeks alone, five men incarcerated in Mississippi have died as the result of prison violence. These deaths are a direct result of Mississippi's utter disregard for the people it has incarcerated and their constitutional rights."

The lawsuit has directed national attention to the plight of inmates held within the state’s prison system, mirroring the outcry over similar issues experienced in Alabama in recent years, including accusations Eight Amendment rights of prisoners have been violated.

The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment and is violated when "prison officials fail to protect against prison-related violence and when prison conditions fail to meet basic human needs."

Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Corey Carter, was joined in the lawsuit by Yo Gotti, also a rapper. The pair are part of Team ROC, the social justice arm of Jay-Z’s ROC Nation entertainment group.

The prisons "are plagued with violence" because of a staffing shortage, the lawsuit states, and inmates are forced to "live in squalor, endangering their physical and mental health."

“In Parchman, the units are subject to flooding. Black mold festers. Rats and mice infest the prison. Units lack running water and electricity for days at a time,” the lawsuit added.

Many of the Mississippi prison system’s issues have come from radical budget cuts in recent years.

MDOC has asked the state’s legislature for a little over $400 million for fiscal year 2021, which would be a 23 percent increase on 2020’s budget, according to a recent MDOC news release. The money would be used for renovations and to increase the starting salary for the 800 vacant positions in the system.

"The agency is experiencing critical understaffing at its three state prisons and needs at least 1,000 more officers for its current facilities," said the recent press release. "The number of officers has continued to dwindle as the agency’s pay has not kept pace with industry salaries and other professions."

An attorney representing Team ROC said the recent deaths were “a direct result of Mississippi’s utter disregard for the people it has incarcerated and their constitutional rights.”

“We cannot treat people this way and it’s time to do something about it,” said Jay-Z’s lawyer Alex Spiro at the U.S. District Court in Greenville, Mississippi, according to multiple media reports.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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