Jay-Z, Yo Gotti Threaten to Sue State of Mississippi Over Prison Conditions
“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.”
Rap mogul Jay-Z and hip-hop artist Yo Gotti wrote a letter to two top Mississippi officials Thursday, protesting the inhumane conditions of Mississippi prisons. They threatened to sue the state if the conditions weren’t improved.
They were motivated by an outbreak of deadly gang violence that left five dead in Mississippi prisons earlier this year, which brought the system’s long-running problems under sharp scrutiny. Sunflower County Coroner Heather Burton said the killings at Parchman Penitentiary were unprecedented in her 12 years in office.
The rap stars’ letter was addressed to Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall and listed the dire conditions: frequent prison lockdowns, violence, a staffing shortage and inmates forced to live in squalor with rats crawling over them as they sleep on the floor due to no access to a mattress or a cot.
Governor Phil Bryant has previously blamed the recent violence within Mississippi prisons on gangs operating inside the system. The Grammy-award winning billionaire rapper Jay-Z and fellow artist Yo Gotti are fighting this misconception.
“To see this happen so close to my hometown of Memphis is truly devastating,” Yo Gotti 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.”
Alex Spiro, a New York lawyer representing Yo Gotti and Jay-Z’s company, Roc Nation, collaborated in writing the letter with them and signed it too.
Although the New York-born Jay-Z did not grow up near Mississippi, Spiro attested to his and Yo-Gotti’s past efforts for social justice and civil rights, including violations of the Eighth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act from the prison system and government.
The lawyer suspects that race plays a part in the marginalization of these prison inmates, resulting in a lack of resources at these facilities.
Previous efforts from prisoners’ rights advocates investigating the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) have been fruitless in reforming and better funding the prison system.
Although a spokesperson for Governor Bryant has not publicly responded to the letter, State Rep. Robert Johnson visited Parchman with other Democratic state lawmakers on Friday. Johnson conceded that the conditions were appalling for any human habitation, with broken toilets full of waste, leaking ceilings, and understaffing.
On Saturday, the Mississippi Department of Corrections also posted on Twitter that cleanup is still underway at the Mississippi State Penitentiary’s Unit 29 after the recent unrest.