Rap icon Jay-Z and budding industry powerhouse Yo Gotti have teamed up to sue the Mississippi Department of Corrections following the deaths of 12 prisoners in 2020. The rappers claim that inhumane conditions and inefficient prison staff, particularly at Parchman State Penitentiary, have contributed to the mounting death toll.
Jay-Z’s Team Roc, the philanthropic wing of his Roc Nation record label, has hired lawyers to represent 29 inmates who are suing Mississippi’s prison system. The lawsuit, filed against Department of Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall and Mississippi State Penitentiary Superintendent Marshall Turner, claims that the deaths are a result of “severe understaffing and neglect”.
While gang violence has been cited as a major factor ravaging Mississippi prisons, Team Roc has also pointed out moldy and rat infested conditions prisoners find themselves living in and a lack of beds.
Prisoners have found themselves sleeping on the floor and in cramped conditions. Photo: Team Roc, Instagram.
Team Roc’s advocacy and lawsuit is also focusing on prisoner rehabilitation. In a letter penned by Jay-Z and Gotti to Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, the duo asks the governor to consider the dangerous conditions prisoners are living under and the lack of rehabilitative services. “If the goal of incarceration is rehabilitation, how can we ever hope to return these men to society when the extreme neglect and dangerous conditions under which they are subjected strips away every last bit of self-worth?” asks the letter.
Public outrage has led Gov. Reeves to close the notorious Unit 29 of the Mississippi Penitentiary, where death row inmates are housed. The closure of three of the Unit’s buildings has been done to make the spaces more “livable”.
Mississippi’s prisons have been under scrutiny in the past for inhumane conditions. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against Mississippi for inhumane conditions at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, similar to those found at Parchman. Advocates believe that Mississippi is not doing enough to protect Eighth Amendment rights. “The Mississippi Department of Corrections has abdicated its responsibility to uphold the Constitution,” Eric Balaban, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Prison Project, said “and to treat the people in its custody with human decency”.