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Posted under: Social Justice News

Yo Gotti And Roc Nation Have Followed Through On Their Promise To Sue Mississippi For Its Prison Conditions

Gotti described the prison conditions as “absolutely inhumane and unconstitutional."

Update (January 15, 2020): Rapper Jay-Z and Yo Gotti have filed a lawsuit against Mississippi prison officials who allegedly failed to stop the increasing number of inmates dying from violent attacks. According to NBC News, the artists brought the complaint on Tuesday on behalf of 29 prisoners.

“These deaths are a direct result of Mississippi’s utter disregard for the people it has incarcerated and their constitutional rights,” the lawsuit states.

The defendants are DOC Commissioner Pelicia Hall and Mississippi State Penitentiary Superintendent Marshall Turner, NBC News reports. 

Jay’z lawyer, Alex Spiro, first sent a letter on Thursday to Hall and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. The letter, sent on behalf of Jay-Z and Gotti, alleged “inhumane conditions in prisons operated by the Mississippi Department of Corrections.”

According to the lawsuit, the recent deaths are a result of a "culmination of years of severe understaffing and neglect."

"As Mississippi has incarcerated increasing numbers of people, it has dramatically reduced its funding of prisons," the lawsuit states.

Violence in Mississippi prisons has escalated in the last 10 days with riots and escapes, as Blavity previously reported. Gangs have reportedly taken over, and penitentiaries are understaffed and underfunded. 

Five prisoners have died in three prisons within the past few weeks, with many left injured, reports the Mississippi Clarion Ledger. Penitentiaries statewide went on lockdown on December 29 after an offender was killed and two others were injured at South Mississippi Correctional Institution. The lockdown was lifted Friday at all but Parchman.

The lawsuit identifies three inmates who have died in Parchman, Mississippi, since the beginning of the year.

“Walter Gates, an inmate of Unit 29E at Parchman was stabbed multiple times the night of New Year’s Eve, and pronounced dead just after midnight,” the suit states. “Roosevelt Holliman was stabbed to death in a fight the next day. And Denorris Howell, an inmate of Unit 291 at Parchman was stabbed multiple times and pronounced dead the day after that.”

Bryant has blamed violence in prisons on gangs inside the prisons. He says they are hard to manage “under the best of the circumstance.”

Gotti says the prison conditions are “absolutely inhumane and unconstitutional." The rapper added those incarcerated at the prison 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."

"To see this happen so close to my hometown of Memphis is truly devastating," the rapper's statement said. "That’s why we’re calling on Mississippi state leaders to take immediate action and rectify this issue. If they don’t right this wrong, we’re prepared to take legal action to provide relief for those that are incarcerated and their families.”

Spiro told the Clarion Ledger that Gotti and Jay-Z have been in contact with people in the prison system. 

"I just think it's troubling where you have people, predominantly African American, who are locked inside cages where they don’t have a voice to be heard and are essentially the forgotten," Spiro said. "It strikes us that there has to be a spotlight on this, otherwise we might not even be scratching the surface of the horror going on inside these prisons."

State Representative Robert Johnson and other Democratic lawmakers visited Parchman on Friday morning. He said he observed broken toilets filled with waste and leaking ceilings. He said the understaffing at the prisons is a “recipe for disaster.”

"There’s no request or desire to make prison a country club, but there's basic and requisite standards to exist as a human being. And I don’t think we're meeting those — not for employees, not for inmates," Johnson said.

Original story (January 13, 2010): Rapper Yo Gotti and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation are threatening to sue the state of Mississippi if prison conditions are not improved, reports WREG

The Memphis-born rapper enlisted Team Roc — the philanthropic entity of Jay-Z’s entertainment company — to write a letter to Governor Phil Bryant and Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall demanding immediate changes in state prisons. The letter, which touches on violence, prison lockdowns and understaffing, threatens legal action if conditions aren’t improved. 

Violence in Mississippi prisons has escalated in the last 10 days with riots and escapes, as Blavity previously reported. Gangs have reportedly taken over, and penitentiaries are understaffed and underfunded. 

Five prisoners have died in three prisons within the past few weeks, with many left injured, reports the Mississippi Clarion Ledger. Two died at Parchman Farm, which the “Rake It Up” rapper expressed his grievances about. Penitentiaries statewide went on lockdown on December 29 after an offender was killed and two others were injured at South Mississippi Correctional Institution. The lockdown was lifted Friday at all but Parchman.

Bryant has blamed violence in prisons on gangs inside the prisons. He says they are hard to manage “under the best of the circumstance.”

The letter stated they were giving Bryant the weekend to improve conditions or attorney Alex Spiro will file a civil lawsuit. 

Gotti says the prison conditions are “absolutely inhumane and unconstitutional." The rapper added those incarcerated at the prison 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."

"To see this happen so close to my hometown of Memphis is truly devastating," the rapper's statement said. "That’s why we’re calling on Mississippi state leaders to take immediate action and rectify this issue. If they don’t right this wrong, we’re prepared to take legal action to provide relief for those that are incarcerated and their families.”

Spiro told the Clarion Ledger that Gotti and Jay-Z have been in contact with people in the prison system. He added they are exploring civil rights and constitutional claims that the prison system is violating the Civil Rights Act. 

"I just think it's troubling where you have people, predominantly African American, who are locked inside cages where they don’t have a voice to be heard and are essentially the forgotten," Spiro said. "It strikes us that there has to be a spotlight on this, otherwise we might not even be scratching the surface of the horror going on inside these prisons."

State Representative Robert Johnson and other Democratic lawmakers visited Parchman on Friday morning. He said he observed broken toilets filled with waste and leaking ceilings. He said the understaffing at the prisons is a “recipe for disaster.”

"There’s no request or desire to make prison a country club, but there's basic and requisite standards to exist as a human being. And I don’t think we're meeting those — not for employees, not for inmates," Johnson said.

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Miami native, recent Ithaca College grad, lover of Cuban food.