Jay-Z is going to bat for prison inmates who fear for their safety.
The rap mogul and criminal justice advocate is behind a lawsuit filed on Tuesday against two Mississippi prison officials. The suit, filed on behalf of 29 prisoners, claims authorities have done nothing to stop violence that killed five prisoners recently, NBC News reports. All the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are inmates at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, where three of the deaths occurred during the two-week span of Dec. 29 and Jan. 3.
The lawsuit — against the head of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), Pelicia Hall and the warden of the state penitentiary, Marshal Turner — says the understaffed prisons are “plagued by violence” and inmates are forced to live in dangerous conditions. It said the recent deaths are “a direct result of Mississippi's utter disregard for the people it has incarcerated and their constitutional rights,” and that “the plaintiffs' lives are in peril.”
According to TMZ, the lawsuit seeks damages for the prisoners as well as an order forcing issues at the prison, including a sewage problem at Parchman, to be fixed.
Hall recently resigned from her post as MDOC Commissioner. According to the Associated Press, Mississippi authorities have said they were aware of problems in the prisons and urged people to report any criminal or civil rights violations.
The lawsuit was filed by Alex Spiro and other lawyers from Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan in New York City, as well as the Blackmon Firm in Canton, Miss. Spiro is an attorney for Jay-Z and and works with his Team Roc, the philanthropic arm of the rapper’s entertainment company, Roc Nation. (Last year, Spiro and Jay-Z’s Team Roc worked together on behalf of an 11-year-old African-American male student who refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance.)
It was Yo Gotti got the ball rolling. The Roc Nation-repped hip-hop artist, who is from nearby Memphis, worked with Team Roc to procure legal representation (Spiro) for several of the inmates.
A rep for Yo Gotti tells Yahoo Entertainment, “The lives of countless individuals in Mississippi are at stake and we will not stop until this is fixed.”
Yo Gotti spoke to Yahoo Finance about the lawsuit on Thursday:
On Jan. 9, Spiro and the attorneys at Quinn Emanuel sent a letter on behalf of Jay-Z and Yo Gotti to Hall and then-Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant saying they intended to sue the state over inmates being “forced to live in squalor.” The letter said the rash of deaths was the result of years of understaffing and neglect in the state’s prison system. It ended with, “Roc Nation and its philanthropic arm, Team Roc, demand that Mississippi take immediate steps to remedy this intolerable situation.”
Team Roc has not responded to Yahoo Entertainment’s request for comment about the lawsuit. However, attorney Spiro says in a statement, "We cannot treat people this way, and it's time to do something about it."
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