Story at a glance
- There have been 13 deaths in Mississippi state correctional facilities this month alone, reports say.
- Jay-Z and Yo Gotti have both penned a letter and filed a lawsuit against officials who were allegedly negligent.
- Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves intends to make changes within the Mississippi prison framework.
The Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) has registered a staggering 13 prison inmate deaths in less than a month, including apparent suicides, homicides and illness-related deaths. The most recent death was that of Joshua Norman, whose investigation is still pending.
During the last month, protests and calls for a federal investigation into prison conditions have been vocalized by advocacy groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU of Mississippi and elected officials like Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.).
While Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has intervened to close Unit 29, one of the most infamous sections of the Mississippi State Penitentiary, and push for change “for the state to move in the right direction,” as quoted in CNN, he now also has celebrities urging him to declare it an emergency.
Rapper Yo Gotti, whose real name is Mario Mims, has partnered with fellow rapper Jay-Z and his nonprofit Team Roc to pen a letter to Reeves imploring him to implement prison reform in light of the recent death of incarcerated people. The letter is dated Jan. 21, 2020. Mims and Team Roc have also staged rallies and formed online petitions to raise awareness.
#YoGotti names #50Cent & #JayZ apart of his Top 5 Rappers list & talks partnering with #RocNation for urgent prison reform
•@YoGotti @NickCannon @CannonMornings #NickCannonMornings
[WATCH] https://t.co/VjcdPw1tN3 pic.twitter.com/JLgx7OaOCI
— Power 106 (@Power106LA) January 28, 2020
Team Roc filed a lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of 29 incarcerated plaintiffs against two prison officials, Department of Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall and Mississippi State Penitentiary Superintendent Marshal Turner, according to The Clarion Ledger.
The lawsuit reportedly claims the Eighth Amendment rights — which forbids cruel and unusual punishment — of the 29 inmates are being violated by MDOC officials.
The MDOC declined to comment, stating that it does not discuss pending litigation.
Having a brother, father, aunt and friends who were incarcerated, Mims told CBS that he is “very close” to the prison system and understands how it operates internally. In his letter, he refers to the inmate deaths in Mississippi as a “humanitarian crisis,” and calls it “as immoral as it is counterproductive.”
The objective of the lawsuit is to prompt a judge to rule that MDOC must design a plan that will shield inmates from “prison violence and failure to timely respond to emergency conditions” with properly trained staff, as well as improve the sanitary conditions in the prison, according to the Ledger.
“We are writing today to sound the alarm as the MDOC situation is growing more dire by the minute and demands immediate action,” the Team Roc and Mims letter reads.
“If the goal of incarceration is rehabilitation, how can we ever hope to return these men to society when the extreme neglect and dangerous conditions under which they are subjected strips away every last bit of self-worth?” the letter asks later.
Gov. Reeves tweeted a statement on Jan. 23, writing “The issues within the Department didn’t happen overnight, and they won’t be fixed overnight. It will be a long road, but we are making progress to restore Mississippians’ trust in the system. I am committed to seeing this through every step of the way,” as he toured the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.