by Douglas Ankney
In January 2023, rappers Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Mario “Yo Gotti” Mims agreed to dismiss the lawsuit they had brought on behalf of 227 prisoners challenging conditions at Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman. The stipulation provided for dismissal of all claims “without prejudice” – meaning they could be re-filed at a later date. Team Roc, the social justice initiative of Carter’s ROC Nation, said that significant improvements to conditions of confinement at Parchman warranted dismissal of the lawsuit, with the caveat it could be reopened if those conditions deteriorated. See: Lang v. Taylor, USDC (N.D. Miss.) Case No. 4:20-cv-00030.
“We are pleased with the changes made to date and the improvements in the day-to-day lives of the guys’ inside,” said Team Roc attorney Jordan Siev. “But we’re also cognizant of the fact that Parchman has had a long history of lawsuits, improvements and then backsliding conditions. We’re pleased that improvements have been made inside, but we’re also not going to take our foot off the gas.”
Memphis rapper Gotti released a similar statement: “We’re pleased that Parchman has started to address the cruel and inhumane prison conditions after the Department of Justice’s investigation, but we aren’t satisfied with short term improvements. The Mississippi Department of Corrections [DOC] has neglected these torturous living conditions for decades, so we will continue to hold them accountable and ensure they commit to creating long-lasting change that safely protects their incarcerated population.”
As PLN reported when the lawsuit was initiated, conditions at Parchman allegedly included not only shattered lights and a plumbing system in a “perpetual state of systemic failure” but also meals contaminated with cockroaches, rat feces, and bird droppings. A lack of medical care left prisoners to “self-treat” injuries. Unexplained lockdowns and several deaths prompted protests at the state Capitol in Jackson demanding to “shut Parchman down.” The horrendous living conditions were severe enough to prompt the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation of Mississippi’s prison system in February 2020, just one month after Carter and Mims filed a predecessor lawsuit since consolidated into the case they dismissed. The rappers’ suits were widely credited with prompting private prison healthcare giant Centurion to drop its contract with DOC in July 2020. [See: PLN, July 2020, p.8.; and Mar. 2021, p.21.]
Since then, the prison medical center’s outdated van has been replaced with two operable ambulances. New showers, toilets and sinks have been installed. Heating and ventilation systems have also been upgraded and broken tiles and mold removed from the mess hall. New activities have been added, including flag football, basketball and boxing. Most importantly, perhaps, air conditioning is being installed – though 25% of the prison still remained unprotected from sweltering heat as of July 2023.
Additional source: Mississippi Today
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