In the midst of the raging COVID-19 pandemic across the nation and in Mississippi prisons, Jay-Z, Yo Gotti and Team ROC have filed a class-action lawsuit against on behalf of 227 Mississippi inmates against the state’s new Department of Corrections Commissioner Nathan Burl Cain and Centurion (the healthcare provider for all Mississippi prisons) in an effort to address the dire conditions for prisoners in lockdown during the pandemic.
According to a copy of a sworn COVID-19 questionnaire filled out by some Parchman prisoners provided to Billboard by a spokesperson for Team ROC, the men describe a lack of COVID testing protocols in the century-old prison, reports of officials saying that corona tests in short supply, poor social distancing, a lack of PPE and confinement in close proximity to inmates displaying coronavirus symptoms such as coughing and fever at the state’s only maximum security prison for men.
“The situation in Parchman in dire. More and more of the incarcerated population are reaching out for help and pleading for immediate medical attention, especially as the coronavirus threatens their lives,” Gotti (born Mario Mims) said in a statement about the prison which the suit argues has been understaffed or underfunded for decades, resulting in “barbaric” conditions that allegedly include abuse and “constant” violence. “Mississippi Governor Reeves, Commissioner Burl Cain and Centene — as the parent company of Parchman’s healthcare provider Centurion — can’t continue to neglect this tragedy and let the death toll rise. We will hold them accountable and fight for the rights of the incarcerated.”
According to the statement, in late December, before the outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. that has killed more than 137,000 people, inmates at Parchman were dealing with “cruel and torturous living conditions that resulted in internal riots, suicides and homicides,” prompting Gotti and Team ROC to file an initial lawsuit.
Asked if any actions have been taken to provide more space between prisoners since the COVID outbreak, one inmate wrote, “No, nothing!!! MDOC don’t really care about what’s happening to inmates!!!” That inmate also wrote that bunks have not been reassigned to provide more space between prisoners and that when he asked a prison health care worker if he could personally request a COVID test that “testing supplies were limited” and that his request would be refused unless he was exhibiting symptoms.
“Now, with COVID-19 spreading, the lack of medical care has worsened, leading to 49 deaths throughout the Mississippi prison system since [a riot at the prison on] Dec. 29, 2019, with 24 of them taking place at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman,” according to the statement from Team ROC. The lawsuit claims that the prison suffers from chronic staff shortages, deplorable plumbing and sewage issues, black mold and contaminated food and drinking water supplies. Cain, who was hired by Miss. Gov. Tate Reeves in mid-June to oversee the state’s prison system, refused to shut down Parchman, according to the Jackson Free Press, saying, “to close down Parchman meant to admit defeat, Cain said, a prospect he was unwilling to consider.” A spokesperson for the Mississippi Dept. of Corrections could not be reached for comment at press time.
In the lawsuit against Cain and Centurion, a Team ROC lawyer argues that if the conditions at Parchman were found 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 court order calls on officials to submit a plan to address the conditions in the prison within 90 days.