Lawsuits funded by Jay-Z end as Mississippi improves prison

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JACKSON, Miss — Lawyers hired by Jay-Z and other artists have ended two lawsuits they filed in 2020 on behalf of Mississippi inmates alleging what they believe are appalling living conditions at the city’s oldest prison. State – a facility under intense surveillance by the Department of Justice following outbreaks of deadly inmate violence.

Even before the Mississippi State Penitentiary violence in Parchman in late 2019 and early 2020, health inspectors had seen repeated problems with broken toilets and moldy showers. Prisoners said some cell doors didn’t lock and it was common to see rats and cockroaches.

The lawsuits were dismissed on Jan. 13 after lawyers for the inmates and the State Department of Corrections said improvements had been made over the past three years, including the installation of air conditioning in most of the prison, the renovation of some bathrooms and the updating electricity, water and sewage. systems.

In April, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report saying that Parchman had violated the constitutional rights of detainees. The prison said the prison had failed to protect inmates from violence, meet their mental health needs or take adequate measures to prevent suicide, and that the prison relied too heavily on long-term solitary confinement.

The Justice Department has been investigating Parchman for two years. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in April that Mississippi Department of Corrections officials were cooperating with the investigation and promised to resolve the issues.

U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock in northern Mississippi this month filed an injunction dismissing the Jay-Z-funded lawsuits; rapper Yo Gotti; and Team Roc, the philanthropic arm of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. In a lawsuit, attorneys for Mississippi Department of Corrections plaintiffs and defendants agreed that no one involved in the lawsuits admitted liability to anyone in the lawsuits.

“We are pleased that Parchman has begun addressing the brutal and inhumane prison conditions following the Justice Department investigation, but we are not satisfied with the short-term improvements,” said Mario Mims, who called Yo Gotti. in a statement Monday. “The Mississippi Department of Corrections has neglected these torturous living conditions for decades, so we will continue to hold them accountable and ensure they are committed to creating lasting change that safely protects their incarcerated population. “

One lawsuit was filed in January 2020 and the other a month later. They eventually merged. The second lawsuit said that Parchman was a violent, rat-infested place where inmates lived in “abhorrent conditions” and their medical needs were routinely ignored.

Burl Cain, a former Louisiana prison officer, became commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections in May 2020, vowing to improve conditions at Parchman. Since then, the department has transferred some inmates to other prisons. Parchman had more than 3,200 prisoners in December 2019; it has about 2,450 this month.

“The Mississippi Department of Corrections appreciates the tremendous responsibility of housing those sentenced to our care, custody and control and has always been committed to continuously improving the living conditions of those housed in all of our correctional facilities, including the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. “As a result, we have and will continue to make diligent efforts to improve the quality of life of all persons in MDOC prison and provide them with opportunities to successfully return to their communities.

Violence has long been a problem in Mississippi prisons, where many guard jobs have gone unfilled. State Department of Corrections officials have said for years that it’s hard to find people to work as guards because of low pay, long hours and dangerous conditions. The state has raised wages for the past two years.

The Justice Department said last year it had seen “gross understaffing” and “uncontrolled gang activity.” He also found that the inadequate security gave detainees “unrestricted access to contraband”.

Parchman was founded in 1901 on the site of a former plantation. For decades, prisoners worked on a farm that critics said amounted to slavery.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

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