152 Inmates Are Filing A Class-Action Lawsuit Against Mississippi Prisons With The Help Of Jay-Z And Yo Gotti
Roc Nation has filed a second lawsuit in federal court against Mississippi Department of Corrections after multiple deaths at Parchman prison.
Lawyers representing 152 inmates at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman filed a class-action lawsuit against the prison on Wednesday, writing that the "conditions of confinement at Parchman are so barbaric," CBS News reports.
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The lawsuit is the second one filed by attorneys hired by Jay-Z, Yo Gotti and Roc Nation. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Mississippi and comes after the prison system suffered its 18th death since December 29.
Parchman, one of many massive southern plantations that were transformed into prisons, has a long history of violating human rights. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History wrote the "Parchman Farm was in many ways reminiscent of a gigantic antebellum plantation and operated on the basis of a plan proposed by Governor John M. Stone in 1896."
A second lawsuit has been filed against the MSDOC demanding closure of #Parchman due to the cruel and torturous living conditions.— Team Roc (@teamroc) February 26, 2020
"The conditions of confinement at Parchman are so barbaric, the deprivation of health and mental health care so extreme, and the defects in security so severe, that the people confined at Parchman live a miserable and hopeless existence confronted daily by imminent risk of substantial harm in violation of their rights afforded by the U.S. Constitution," the lawsuit said.
Roc Nation released a video describing the conditions inside Parchman, sharing dozens of cellphone images captured throughout the last three months.
Four inmates have died while at Mississippi prisons this month and there have been dozens of reports showing the disastrous living conditions. In the video and subsequent news reports, prisoners have said they are routinely locked in their cells for months on end with no water, lights or toilets. Food is either moldy, rotten or scarce.
Many of those incarcerated are in "dire need of medical care" for conditions like cancer, lupus and serious heart defects, as well as deteriorating joints and muscles and "open, festering wounds," according to the complaint. The latest lawsuit from Roc Nation's lawyers comes after another lawsuit was filed in January on behalf of 29 other individuals.
Several state officials are named as defendants in the lawsuit, including the interim director of the state's department of corrections, the department's top medical official and several officials at Parchman prison.
"Broken bones, abscesses, diabetes and a host of other injuries and maladies routinely go without examination, much less medically effective treatment, at Parchman. As a result, prisoner-on-prisoner violence is rampant, and, at times, is facilitated by corrupt guards seeking to curry favor with inmates," the complaint stated.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice opened a civil rights investigation into the conditions of Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, South Mississippi Correctional Institution in Leakesville and Wilkinson County Correctional Facility.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves shut down one of the notorious units in Parchman in January when reporters questioned why inmates were allowed to stay in the section after decades of civil rights complaints from the ACLU.
"I have instructed the Mississippi Department of Corrections to begin the necessary work to start closing Parchman's most notorious unit, Unit 29. I've seen enough. We have to turn the page. This is the first step, and I have asked the department to begin the preparations to make it happen safely, justly and quickly," Reeves said according to CBS News.
In a feature on the prison, CBS spoke with one inmate who explained what it was like inside Parchman's Unit 29.
"I understand we're incarcerated but you're still supposed to treat us like humans. I know it ain't supposed to be easy for us but it ain't supposed to be that hard with our living conditions. If I go two weeks without a shower, of course, I'm going to act out," 28-year-old Travonta Riley, who was housed in Unit 29 and released on January 13, said.
Prison officials have begged the state for more funding and staff to fix the prison, but the state continues to have one of the lowest pay rates for officers and guards.
“It is important to continue to address housing and infrastructure needs for the most violent offenders. Moving the 375 inmates to the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler provided some relief to an overstressed system. However, there are additional close custody inmates at Unit 29. This facility, originally constructed in 1980 and renovated in 1996, has become unsafe for staff and inmates due to age and general deterioration,” former Commissioner Pelicia E. Hall said in her budget letter dated Aug. 30, 2019.
"The request is also consistent with previous years’ requests for additional funding to address staffing, infrastructure and other agency needs. While we thank the Legislature for a 3 percent increase effective July 1, 2019, Mississippi’s salaries are still the lowest in the country,” Commissioner Hall added.