Jay-Z lawyers join lawsuit against Mississippi prison officials

Former inmate and gang member speaks out about prison conditions.
Former inmate and gang member speaks out about prison conditions.
Updated: Jan. 14, 2020 at 6:01 PM CST
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GREENVILLE, Miss. (WDAM) - Hip Hop artists Jay-Z and Yo Gotti are moving forward after threats of legal action against Mississippi due to conditions at state prisons.

Lawyers working with the rap artists filed a federal lawsuit in the Northern District of Mississippi on behalf of 29 state inmates Tuesday after violence at prisons led to multiple deaths in recent weeks. The lawsuit named Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall and Marshal Turner, Superintendent of the Mississippi State Penitentiary, as defendants.

Jay-Z and Yo Gotti sent a letter to Gov. Phil Bryant and Hall on Jan. 9 regarding the situation at state correctional facilities, calling conditions at state prisons “inhumane and unconstitutional."

In the letter to Bryant, Jay-Z’s lawyer Alex Spiro said they were “prepared to pursue all potential avenues to obtain relief for the people living in Mississippi’s prisons and their families,” according to NBC News.

The letter closed with a warning from Spiro: “Roc Nation and its philanthropic arm, Team Roc, demand that Mississippi take immediate steps to remedy this intolerable situation.”

The lawsuit was filed by The Blackmon Firm out of Canton, along with Spiro and other lawyers from Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan out of New York.

The complaint said the inmates’ “lives are in peril” due to the state’s failure to fund its prisons. The suit cited recent inmate deaths at the hands of prison violence, arguing the deaths are the direct result of understaffed correctional facilities and the state’s “utter disregard for the people it has incarcerated and their constitutional rights.”

According to the complaint, the conditions at state prisons are a violation of inmates’ Eighth Amendment rights, which prohibit cruel and unusual punishment.

Bryant and other state officials have blamed the recent deaths on gang violence, but the suit alleges the “neglected state of prison facilities fosters an environment for violence.”

Included in the complaint are reports of overcrowding at Parchman, lack of mattresses, flooding in prison units causing black mold, missing light fixtures, backed up toilets resulting in raw sewage on prison floors and drinking water that has repeatedly failed to meet federal safety standards.

The lawsuit asks the court to find the defendants’ actions in violation of inmates’ rights and to order the implementation of a plan to eliminate the risk of harm to inmates. The request for relief also includes compensatory and punitive damages, as well as the cost of the suit and attorneys’ fees.

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