- On Tuesday, artists Jay-Z and Yo Gotti made good on their threats of filing a lawsuit against MDOC officials for violating prisoner rights
- The lawsuit follows five violent deaths in the prisons across Mississippi and leaked videos from inmates showing the conditions they are forced to live in
- This will be the third class-action lawsuit against Parchman prison in specific for violating the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of prisoners in their care
Threats from Jay-Z and Yo Gotti to sue the Mississippi Department of Corrections over the prison conditions at the Mississippi State Prison—more commonly known as Parchman—came to fruition on Tuesday with a lawsuit against MDOC officials filed on behalf of 23 prisoners currently at the controversial prison.
Plaintiffs’ Lives Are In Peril
Named in the lawsuit are MDOC Commissioner Pelicia Hall and Superintendent Marshall Turner. “Plaintiffs’ lives are in peril,” the lawsuit starts. Inmates claim Missisissippi’s failure to properly fund their prisons have created “prisons where violence reigns because prisons are understaffed.” Staffing for MDOC has been a long going issue but recent incidents have encouraged celebrities such as Jay-Z and Yo Gotti to take a stand for inmate rights.
Funding Cuts For MDOC
In 2014, MDOC employed 1,591 correctional officers. The number of correctional officers has dropped to just 731, a drop of over half their employees. Parchman in specific cannot fill their empty positions. In the last year, Parchman only managed to fill 261 open positions out of 512. Starting pay rates for correctional employees is currently $26,650 annually. Hall requested $2.79 million to raise the pay to $30,640 but the Joint Legislative Budget Committee recommended rejecting the proposal. Not only did the budget committee reject the proposal, they recently suggested cutting another $2.6 million from MDOC’s already desperately struggling prison system.
The lack of correctional officers has caused Parchman to once again be run by the prisoners. Videos that have been leaked to social media from inmates show violence is a regular and undisciplined act at Parchman.
Inmates claim that guards have actually helped inmates conduct attacks against rival gangs by “popping locks” during a lockdown. Inmates in red and white jumpsuits—the prison’s most dangerous prisoners—are seen openly walking the halls with no guards in sight. One video claims to show an inmate stabbing another inmate in his cell during a lockdown. Despite the inmates being rambunctious and screaming, no guard is ever seen.
Flooding Inside Parchman Prison
The lawsuit also addresses the inhumane living conditions inmates in Parchman are forced to stay in. “The prisons have failed to provide the basic necessities, such as a place to sleep,” the lawsuit reads. In 2012, six inmates lacked mattresses or bedding. Last year that number grew to more than 250, over 7% of the prison population.
Units inside Parchman are also constantly flooded with both rainwater and backed-up sewage. The flooding comes from several sources but the roof is one of the main issues. Videos uploaded to social media by inmates show gallons of water relentlessly dumping through the ceilings. Inmates are seen desperately trying to contain as much water as possible with buckets. One inmate showed where mold was growing on the side of his mattress due to the flooding.
An issue that dates back to the 1972 lawsuit is the prison’s sewage and unsatisfactory toilets. In 2012, a dozen toilets for the inmates did not work but by last year that number had grown to 64. Other toilets are known to flood when toilets in other cells are flushed. One video shows an inmate trying to get the guard’s attention as his toilet slowly begins to overflow. Another video shows feces and urine on the floor from the sewage system.
Over 300 Cells Have No Light Or Power
Along with flooding, an unimaginable number of cells have no electricity, lights or water. In fact, over 300 cells have either no lights or power. Day rooms where the inmates gather also lack lighting, making the job of understaffed correctional officers that much more dangerous. These dark areas allow inmates to do what they want in a prison they already control. Officers understandably have hesitations over entering a dayroom with prisoners out of their cells and no lights.
Adding to the dangers of lack of visibility, the constant darkness is equally dangerous to the inmates’ mental health. These lengthy periods in darkness can be an added factor in stress and help progress mental illness. Before Parchman’s infamous Unit 32 was shut down in 2010 it was known as a Hell on Earth that could drive the sanest man insane due to similar issues seen in the prison as a whole today.
It was reported that 59 sinks around the prison do not work. In addition to the 59 sinks that do not work, the ones that do work produce water that has failed inspections for years. Videos from inmates have shown the discolored water they have to drink. In fact, since 2011 the Health Department has issued almost 100 major violations against Parchman under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Last year the safety score for water treatment was a 0.5 out of 5. The Environmental Protection Agency has cited Parchman’s sewage system for violating the Clean Water Act for three years.
Lawsuit Against MDOC Officials
Like an echo of lawsuits in the past against Parchman, inmates claim the prison is violating their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of protection from harm and environmental conditions. In the two previous lawsuits, the courts have sided with the inmates. The lawsuit accuses Hall and Turner of being “aware of all of the deprivations complained of herein, and have condoned or been deliberately indifferent to such conduct.”
Many believe problems at Parchman began getting significantly worse when the federal courts ended oversight of the facility in 2011. Since the federal oversight ended, the prison spiraled back to the same, if not worse, condition it was in before. Along with growing environmental violations, in 2017 Parchman’s accreditation by the American Correctional Association it received in 2003 had lapsed. The ACA sets standards for prisons around the country. In essence, the prison is truly run by the prisoners who obviously cannot repair the major damages and debilitating conditions the prison has been in for years. Instead, they are forced to live in it with no concern from Mississippi officials.
Federal Authorities Are Investigation Mississippi Prisons
Federal authorities are also looking at the Mississippi Department of Corrections following five violent deaths and a growing amount of evidence showing human rights violations of their prisoners. The FBI’s Jackson division and Mississippi’s two US attorneys have requested people to provide information related to any civil rights violations or criminal activity inside Mississippi’s prison system.
A joint statement from the FBI’s Michelle A. Sutphin and US Attorneys William C. Lamar of the state’s northern district and Mike Hurst of the southern district read, “Allegations of the violation and deprivation of civil rights, as well as criminal activity, continue to be taken very seriously by our offices.” While they did not go into detail on how extensive a federal investigation may be, they asked for criminal violations to be reported to the FBI and potential civil rights violations to be reported to the civil rights division of the US Justice Department.