Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Roc Nation signee, Mario “Yo Gotti” Mims, used their platforms to amplify the troubling findings at Mississippi prisons, where a surge of violence left five male prisoners dead within the past two weeks.
The suit filed on Tuesday names Pelicia Hall, the head of the Mississippi State Department of Corrections (MDOC) and Mississippi State Penitentiary Superintendent Marshall Turner, as defendants. The lawsuit was filed at the U.S. District Court in Greenville, Mississippi, on behalf of 29 inmates represented by Alex Spiro who is the attorney for Roc Nation’s philanthropic arm.
“Plaintiffs’ lives are in peril,” the lawsuit begins according to USA Today “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 suit asks that a judge orders the MDOC to come up with an implementation plan to decrease the violence and to reverse the inhumane conditions many prisoners statewide find themselves exposed to. The suit also states it will ask for a specified amount of damages to be determined at trial.
“We cannot treat people this way and it’s time to do something about it,” Spiro continued in a statement sent to NBC News.
On January 9 Gotti and Jay-Z addressed a letter to Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and Hall, threatening to take legal action if no steps were made to rectify the situation. Hall stepped down from her post earlier in the week to take a position within the private sector.
“This unthinkable spate of deaths is the culmination of years of severe understaffing and neglect at Mississippi’s prisons,” the letter read. “As Mississippi has incarcerated increasing numbers of people, it has dramatically reduced its funding of prisons. As a result, prison conditions fail to meet even the most basic human rights.”
“People are forced to live in squalor, with rats that crawl over them as they sleep on the floor, having been denied even a mattress for a cot.” The letter also mentions frequent violence, lockdowns and staffing shortages.
“To see this happen so close to my hometown of Memphis is truly devastating,” Yo Gotti stated in the joint letter. “That’s why we’re calling on Mississippi state leaders to take immediate action and rectify this issue.”
Mississippi’s prison system currently faces numerous monetary and budget challenges, including deteriorating infrastructures and overcrowding. And authorities claim a surge in gang violence/culture within the state’s prison systems adds to the problem.
However, prisoners have constitutional rights and to underserve them is by no means a valid response.
“The lives of countless individuals in Mississippi are at stake and we will not stop until this is fixed,” the joint letter states.