Hip-hop artists Jay-Z and Yo Gotti are financing a lawsuit on behalf of 152 incarcerated men at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court, says the inmates live in “medieval” conditions, have been denied adequate medical and mental health care, that they have been fed contaminated food and that they have been retaliated against for speaking with their attorneys.
“The conditions of confinement at Parchman are so barbaric, the deprivation of health and mental health care so extreme, and the defects in security so severe, that the people confined at Parchman live a miserable and hopeless existence confronted daily by imminent risk of substantial harm in violation of their rights afforded by the U.S. Constitution,” the complaint said.
Among those being sued are Tommy Taylor, the interim director of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, Gloria Perry, the top MDOC medical official, several prison officials and Centurion of Mississippi, the company holding the MDOC contract for medical, dental and mental health services. That contract is worth “tens of millions of dollars annually” according to the suit, but inmates are “routinely are denied adequate health care through a bureaucratic system fraught with corruption and incompetence.”
“Broken bones, abscesses, diabetes, and a host of other injuries and maladies routinely go without examination, much less medically effective treatment, at Parchman.” The suit states.
The lawsuit also claims that decades of underfunding have left Parchman understaffed to dangerous levels.
“Parchman suffers from chronic staff shortages, staff incompetency, and staff corruption that place Plaintiffs and other inmates in constant peril. Stated simply, there are not enough guards at Parchman, so the few guards available avoid interaction with the inmates at all costs,” the complaint says. “In many instances, there is one – often female – guard for every 160 inmates. As a result, prisoner-on-prisoner violence is rampant, and, at times, is facilitated by corrupt guards seeking to curry favor with inmates.”
The lawsuit outlines the nine prisoner deaths that have occurred at Parchman in 2020, many of them from stabbings and beatings, including some while guards looked on. In one case, two inmates were brutally beaten for three hours while the guard in charge did nothing to intervene.
Nineteen people have died in Mississippi prisons since Dec. 29, 2019, when the violence became so pronounced that MDOC ordered a system-wide lockdown to restrict prisoner movements. Regardless, the violence, much of it caused by gangs, continued.
Calling living conditions at Parchman “medieval,” the lawsuit says that the prison is “not suitable for animals.”
“Were these conditions in existence at an animal shelter, media would swarm, arrests would be made, and those in charge would be on their way to jail as a result of public outrage over this criminal conduct,” the suit claims.
Because of chronic, systemic plumbing problems, the plaintiffs “at times go for months without showers,” and toilets back up and flood cells. Rats are also a big problem.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice opened a civil-rights investigation into Mississippi prisons.
Gov. Tate Reeves, while consistently speaking out against increasing state funding to the prisons, has moved most of the inmates out of Parchman’s Unit 29, which houses some of the most violent prisoners, and into privately-run facilities until the state comes up with permanent housing for them. The unit also houses the state’s death row, which must remain at Parchman by state law.