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January 28, 2020

Refinery 29: Jay-Z & Yo Gotti Help Inmates Sue A Mississippi Prison for Inhumane Treatment

More than ten people have died in state prison in Mississippi since the beginning of 2020 — most of them in one particular state penitentiary: Parchman. Parchman’s death toll continue to rise at a horrifying rate, with some prisoners reportedly beaten to death during their incarceration.

According to Essence, data shows this is nearly double the average of deaths per month for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, and the annual health inspection report from the state found the prison to have extremely unsafe living conditions. Most recently, a 26-year-old inmate named Joshua Norman was found dead in his cell.

This week, the Mississippi Governor, Tate Reeves, called for the closure of Unit 29, the cell block where most of the deaths have happened, and some celebrities are using their platforms to help address the crisis happening in Mississippi.

Following uproar about the conditions at the prison earlier this month, it was Jay-Z and Yo Gotti to the rescue. The rappers have responded to the crisis by making it their personal mission to seek justice, moving to help 29 inmates sue the prison. Earlier this month, Jay-Z and Yo Gotti paid for lawyers to help the inmates file a federal lawsuit alleging the conditions at Parchman are inhumane and unconstitutional. The lawsuit calls the most recent violent deaths the result of “years of severe understaffing and neglect at Mississippi’s prisons.” 

The rappers are not only paying for lawyers and using their resources to help elevate the importance of the case in the public eye, but have become personally invested in it. Both celebrities called for a reform rally in Mississippi to be held this month to bring public attention to the crisis, with Yo Gotti also writing a letter to the Governor about the conditions in the prison “growing more dire by the moment.” 

The emergency motion they filed last Thursday highlights conditions including flooded units, black mold, rats, lack of running water, severe cold and lack of heating, lack of food and severe understaffing. It states that, “There is no room for mistake or ambiguity: the situation at Parchman is an ongoing and lethal humanitarian crisis. Without this Court’s immediate intervention, more people will die, injuries will worsen, and conditions will further deteriorate.” It also requests that a judge visit the prison to witness the extremely inhumane living conditions for themselves. 

In an interview with CBS News, Yo Gotti said, “Governor Reeves’ plan to close down a Parchman prison unit that has caused devastating deaths is a necessary first step. Beyond that, he must implement broader safety measures to address similar issues in other units and urgently provide inmates with medical attention. In the interim, we’re calling for the Department of Justice to step in, move the Parchman inmates to federal prisons and ensure their immediate well-being.” 

Even Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley has weighed in about the cruelty going on in Mississippi. “What is happening in Parchman and in jails across this country is cruel, inhumane and downright criminal. Mass incarceration hasn’t made us any safer. We need to fight to dismantle and radically transform this country’s criminal injustice systems is fundamentally unjust,” she said in a statement to Refinery29.

“What this country needs is a bold, radical reimagining of what public safety and justice can be by prioritizing decarceration and investments in our communities.” Pressley also said that facilities like Parchman are exactly why Congress must pass the People’s Justice Guarantee, which she believes is a blueprint for a humane criminal legal system.

Yo Gotti, Jay-Z and their team have made it clear that without serious action, the nature and number of the deaths occurring in the prison will only escalate. Ultimately, the lawsuit asks for the court to find the prison in violation of inmates’ rights and to create a plan to prevent and eliminate further harm to inmates. It also asks for relief for compensatory and punitive damages tied to the deaths and the costs of the lawsuit.