Jay-Z is suing Mississippi Department of Corrections officials after 5 inmates died in 2 weeks of violence
Lawyers on behalf of rappers Jay-Z and Yo Gotti have filed a lawsuit against Mississippi Department of Corrections officials in the wake of five inmates' deaths in two weeks. The lawsuit accused the state prison system of inhumane living conditions and violating the inmates' constitutional rights. The lawsuit follows a January 9 letter to Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and Department of Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall in which the rappers threatened to sue the state. Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
Following the death of five inmates in two weeks of violence in Mississippi's prison system, rap mogul Jay-Z has filed a federal lawsuit against officials at the Mississippi Department of Corrections. "This unthinkable spate of deaths is the culmination of years of severe understaffing and neglect at Mississippi's prisons," the lawsuit read, according to NBC News. "As Mississippi has incarcerated increasing numbers of people, it has dramatically reduced its funding of prisons. As a result, prison conditions fail to meet even the most basic human rights." Lawyers on behalf of the rappers accused the defendants of violating Mississippi inmates' constitutional rights by not properly staffing the prisons to deal with violence and allowing inmates to live in "inhumane conditions." The accusations are based on the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. The lawsuit comes in the wake of an outbreak of prison violence, including fatal stabbings and attacks, NBC News reported. The Mississippi state prison system, which has one of the nation's highest incarceration rates, has been the subject of lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union and other criminal justice groups over the years saying its facilities have "inhumane conditions." The lawsuit comes after Jay-Z and rapper Yo Gotti sent a letter to Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and DOC Pelicia Hall on January 9, the Mississippi Clarion Ledger reported. The letter pointed to Mississippi prison system's frequent violence, prison staffing shortage, and the "inhumane" living conditions, where inmates were "forced to live in squalor, with rats that crawl over them as they sleep on the floor, having been denied even a mattress for a cot." The DOC declined to comment on the pending litigation to the Clarion Ledger, and previously said in a statement: "Because of the active investigations, the agency is limited in providing additional information. Reporting allegations is irresponsible and could further jeopardize the safety of officers, inmates, and the public."
On Tuesday morning, the pair followed through on that promise when Jay-Z's lawyer Alex Spiro filed the lawsuit at the US District Court in Greenville, Mississippi, listing Hall and Mississippi State Penitentiary Superintendent Marshall Turner as defendants. Hall is expected to step down from her role next week. Jay-Z and Gotti have been involved in several civil rights cases in the past. Team Roc, the philanthropic arm of Jay-Z's organization Roc Nation, has worked on dozens of civil rights cases related to racism, inequality, and social justice at the rapper's request. Spiro and Jay-Z helped rapper 21 Savage fight deportation after he was arrested by ICE, and provided legal counsel to an 11-year-old named Jabari Talbot who was arrested after refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance at his Florida middle school, The Guardian reported. The lawsuit alleges inmates in the Mississipi prison system are "in peril." "Plaintiffs' lives are in peril. In the past two weeks alone, five men incarcerated in Mississippi have died as the result of prison violence. These deaths are a direct result of Mississippi's utter disregard for the people it has incarcerated and their constitutional rights, " lawyers wrote in the lawsuit, according to the Clarion Ledger. Spiro told NBC News that Jay-Z and Gotti are "prepared to pursue all potential avenues to obtain relief for the people living in Mississippi's prisons and their families."Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Each year, the US gets around 4 times as many twisters as the rest of the world combined — here's why
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California Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing that the state close two prisons, in part due to...California Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing that the state close two prisons, in part due to a decline in tax revenue amid the pandemic. Over 500 California prisoners currently have COVID-19. At least five have died. "As we have seen, jails and prisons have become petri dishes for this pandemic," state Rep. Sydney Kamlager, a Democrat from Los Angeles, told Business Insider. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. Left-leaning activists for social justice do not, typically, have kind words for austerity, which brings to mind shuttered schools and trimmed welfare rolls. But when California Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined plans this week to slash the state's budget, citing a freefall in tax revenue due to the pandemic, there was qualified praise from some over his decision to cut funding for prisons. California currently has over 117,000 people in its prisons, more than any other state except for Texas. But the number of incarcerated persons has been falling — by 8% just this year — and that, the product of reduced sentences for drug crimes and efforts to address overcrowding, has meant the state is in a position to begin closing some of its prisons. In January, Newsom, a Democrat, wanted to close one detention center. Now he wants to close two — and to do it fast. That will save money; according to the state's Legislative Analyst's Office, by more than $100 million per year. It could also save lives. "As we have seen, jails and prisons have become petri dishes for this pandemic," state Rep. Sydney Kamlager, a Democrat from Los Angeles, told Business Insider. "Closed quarters, lack of circulating air, and staff and vendors who are not regularly tested — and walk in and out — are recipes for public health disasters." At least five people have died from COVID-19 while incarcerated in a state prison, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; another 524 currently have caught the disease while behind bars. Last month, Kamlager, who chairs the state committee on incarcerated women, told Business Insider that she hoped that efforts to reduce the prison population, in an effort to arrest the spread of the coronavirus, would extend beyond the current crisis. Amber-Rose Howard, executive director of Californians United for a Responsible Budget, "is excited to see the commitment from the governor to close prisons." But her organization, a coalition of 70 activist groups that advocate cutting prison spending, says the governor's proposal is just a start. "We believe that California can close five prisons in the next five years," Howard told Business Insider. In part, that can be achieved by accelerating early release, as California has started to do in response to the coronavirus. "Over 20% of the prison population is over the age of 55," she noted. "We need to see the state pushing for elder parole modifications that would release a larger population of people, who statistically have the least risk of contact with law enforcement after release." Newsom's proposal, which will require approval by California's Democratic-controlled legislature, already gestures at that, proposing to cut the maximum length of parole — and thus the chances one could be incarcerated over a parole violation — from five years to 24 months. But with 34 prisons, and plans to close only two over the next three years, critics of mass incarceration see much room for improvement, from the governor granting clemency more often, to voters themselves overturning the state's notorious "three strikes" sentencing law. "I believe there is a better way," Rep. Kamlager commented. "The current system is not it." Have a news tip? Email this reporter: email@example.comJoin the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Inside London during COVID-19 lockdown
The coronavirus pandemic should be the start, not the end, of criminal justice reform, a California lawmaker says
California lawmaker Sydney Kamlager told Business Insider that the state should release more elderly and vulnerable...California lawmaker Sydney Kamlager told Business Insider that the state should release more elderly and vulnerable prisoners, amid reports that COVID-19 is being introduced to prisons and jails. The state is set to release just 3,500 prisoners out of a population of around 115,000. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told Business Insider its taking steps to protect the safety of incarcerated people, saying it will use prison labor to manufacture up to 10,000 masks a day. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. The global outbreak of COVID-19 has many of us rethinking a lot of our priors — our reliance on physical office spaces in the digital age; on health systems that discourage the ill, and contagious, from taking time off to receive care; and on pre-pandemic modes of lockdown, in prisons and jails, that even in the best of times degrade the physical and mental well-being of those inside. "This is an opportunity for us to reevaluate the systems that we have in place," California Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager told Business Insider. As chair of the legislative body's Select Committee on Incarcerated Women, Kamlager, elected in 2018 to represent much of South Los Angeles and the Westside, has been urging the state to release vulnerable inmates from the vehicle of contagion that is its prison system. The alternative, she said, is elderly women, among others, facing a far graver penalty than their actions ever deserved. "We're running the risk of them dying in prison because of COVID," she said. With many having already served years "because of acts of desperation and poverty," she said, "is that where they should be?" The risk is not hypothetical. On Wednesday, the California Institution for Women — a prison in the city of Corona that held over 1,600 female inmates, as of December 2019 — went into lockdown, according to inmates, following reports that prison staff had been moving back and forth between prisons with known COVID-19 cases. Indeed, while the state has barred visitation, it can't bar outsiders from its prisons altogether: some 67,000 outsiders work there, and at least 53 prison officials have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. One incarcerated woman told Californians United for a Responsible Budget, a group that advocates for a reduction in prison spending, that staff were not taking the threat seriously. "They cough without covering their mouths, most wear no face coverings at all, and they cluster on the yard in groups of five or six, high fiving and hugging each other," the woman said. Romarilyn Ralston is a formerly imprisoned woman who now serves as program coordinator for Project Rebound, a group that helps former detainees transition to life after incarceration. She told Business Insider that the crisis calls for "releasing elderly and vulnerable population," but also for reconsidering the need to subject elderly and vulnerable persons to such harsh conditions in the first place. "Long before the introduction of COVID-19, health care inside prisons for women, trans, and gender non-conforming people was abysmal," Ralston said. With the pandemic, especially, that can mean "deadly complications." Using prison labor to make up to 10,000 masks a day So far, the state has moved to release 3,500 inmates who were already due to be released within the next 60 days, the Los Angeles Times reported last month. But with a total prison population of around 115,000, the overwhelming majority will remain behind bars. What is being done to protect them? In a statement, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said it was taking steps to ensure its captive population, among others, were able to obtain personal protective equipment. For example, prison labor was now being utilized to manufacture "reusable cloth barrier masks to meet some of the supply needs of staff and inmates." To date, the spokesperson said, incarcerated workers have made around 17,000 such masks, "with plans to produce 10,000 per day." Kamlager said state and local governments could be doing a lot more to prevent the spread of infection in what she refers to as "enhanced petri dishes." But there are hopeful signs. "Now, prosecutors are being a little more thoughtful about charges, and about release dates, and about video and telephonic hearings," she noted. As a result, she argued, courts are under less strain from relatively minor cases and better able to deal with more genuine threats to public safety. So if we see, during a pandemic, that incarcerating fewer people is consistent with maintaining safety, why not continue that even after this era of social distancing? Looking forward, and not going back "What I would hate to see is that we let people out and then, after it's over, they go find those people and round them back up and put them back in," Kamlager said. But she fears some others in the state are preparing for that, and more. "The undercurrent of so many conversations that I'm hearing is, you know, we should be readying ourselves for an uptick in crime," Kamlager said. "As we continue to deal with the economic pandemic that has been caused from COVID-19," the thinking goes, "and higher numbers of unemployment, that will turn into desperation, and that will turn into higher crime. And so we should sort of batten down the [hatches] right now now, keeping folks in and locking folks up." That, she maintains, is a recipe for "continued disaster" — reliance on a model of justice that doesn't just fail to rehabilitate, but through a vengeful brand of social isolation actually spreads sickness, serving neither the convicted nor the society that's ostensibly being protected. "Don't let COVID," she said, "be the start and the stop of change." Have a news tip? 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