The rap mogul is fighting for prison reform in Mississippi after violence led to the death of five inmates.
While surely no country's judicial system should rely on the benevolent charity of wealthy celebrities to ensure justice, it sure is nice to know that there are kindhearted moguls out there who care about that sort of thing (even if your own government doesn't). Rap icon Jay-Z—some of you may know him as the husband of none other than Beyoncé—recently sued the United States federal government on behalf of 29 prisoners in Mississippi. The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday, alleges that the head of the Mississippi Department of Corrections and the warden of the state penitentiary have done absolutely nothing to step in and stop the violence that has left five inmates dead over the past two weeks, NBC News reports.
The lawsuit was filed by rapper Jay-Z's personal attorney, Alex Spiro, at the United States District Court in Greenville, Mississippi. It names DOC Commissioner Pelicia Hall and Mississippi State Penitentiary Superintendent Marshall Turner as defendants. Further, it identifies three prison inmates who were killed earlier this year—yes, in the little over two weeks we have had in the year 2020 —t the state penitentiary in Parchman, Mississippi. "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 lawsuit 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." Spiro, who works with the Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP law firm, affirmed in a statement shared with NBC News, "We cannot treat people this way and it’s time to do something about it." Therefore, part of the lawsuit reads, "These deaths are a direct result of Mississippi’s utter disregard for the people it has incarcerated and their constitutional rights."
The Mississippi Department of Corrections is yet to release a formal statement regarding the matter, choosing instead to claim that the facility simply does not discuss pending litigation. However, the correctional facility was not caught unawares. Previously, Spiro sent a letter dated January 9 to Hall and Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant on behalf of the rapper as well as fellow hip-hop artist Yo Gotti (Mario Mims) in order to protest the “inhumane conditions in prisons operated by the Mississippi Department of Corrections.” In the letter, the lawyer communicated that they were "prepared to pursue all potential avenues to obtain relief for the people living in Mississippi’s prisons and their families."
The letter read, "This unthinkable spate of deaths is the culmination of years of severe understaffing and neglect at Mississippi’s prisons. As Mississippi has incarcerated increasing numbers of people, it has dramatically reduced its funding of prisons. As a result, prison conditions fail to meet even the most basic human rights. People 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." The lawyer chose to end the letter with a firm warning: "Roc Nation and its philanthropic arm, Team Roc, demand that Mississippi take immediate steps to remedy this intolerable situation."