Music mogul and businessman Jay-Z sued a pair of Mississippi corrections bosses on behalf of nearly 30 prisoners who say they are forced to endure violence and squalid, “unconstitutional” conditions due to alleged underfunding and understaffing, according to media reports and court papers.
“Plaintiffs’ lives are in peril,” states the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in Mississippi District Court. “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.”
The suit was filed by Alex Spiro, an attorney for Jay-Z and rapper Yo Gotti's Team ROC, on behalf of 29 inmates at Mississippi State Penitentiary, according to NBC News. The court papers name Pelicia E. Hall, the state’s Department of Corrections Commissioner, and Marshal Turner, Mississippi State Penitentiary’s superintendent, as defendants.
A spokesperson for the Mississippi DOC would not comment on the pending litigation.
In a statement provided to FOX Business, Yo Gotti said: “The lives of countless individuals in Mississippi are at stake and we will not stop until this is fixed.”
Five inmates within the states DOC died in the first two weeks of January – including three men who died at Mississippi State Penitentiary, a maximum-security facility, in the first week of 2020, according to the suit.
“This unthinkable spate of deaths is the culmination of years of severe understaffing and neglect at Mississippi’s prisons,” the lawsuit states. “As Mississippi has incarcerated increasing numbers of people, it has dramatically reduced its funding of prisons. Nearly half of the prison guard slots for Mississippi’s prisons remain unfilled.”
Prisoners are forced to “live in squalor” in facilities overcome with violence.
At the penitentiary, “units are subject to flooding. Black mold festers. Rats and mice infest the prison. Units lack running water and electricity for days at a time,” the suit states. “These inhumane conditions are unconstitutional.”
Spiro is one of the attorneys for Team Roc, the philanthropic arm of Jay-Z's and Yo Gotti's Roc Nation.
Last week, Spiro and Roc Nation’s other attorneys sent a letter on behalf of Jay-Z to then-Gov. Phil Bryant and Hall saying they intended to sue the state over inmates being “forced to live in squalor.”
In seeking information about prisons, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Jackson division and the state's two U.S. attorneys said Tuesday that people could report potential federal criminal violations to the FBI or potential civil rights violations to the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department.
State corrections officials are seeking an additional $67 million for the budget year that begins July 1 at the three state-run prisons. That would allow them to hire 800 more guards, raise guards' starting salaries from the current $25,650 to $30,370, and increase pay for current employees.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This report was updated to include a statement from rapper Yo Gotti.