Rappers Jay-Z and Yo Gotti helped more than two dozen Mississippi inmates file a lawsuit claiming people are dying because the state “has failed to fund its prisons.”
Yo Gotti and Team Roc– the philanthropic arm of Jay-Z’s entertainment company, Roc Nation – were able to get legal representation for the inmates to be able to sue, Yo Gotti’s publicist Didier Morais told CNN.
There have been at least five prisoner deaths in the state since late December– four of which were during violent disturbances, officials said earlier this month.
And it’s not the first time. In August 2018, Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Pelicia E. Hall asked the FBI to help investigate the deaths of 15 inmates, which all took place within a month.
The new lawsuit called the recent deaths a “culmination of years of severe understaffing and neglect.”
“As Mississippi has incarcerated increasing numbers of people, it has dramatically reduced its funding of prisons,” the lawsuit says, adding that the underfunding forces inmates to “live in squalor, endangering their physical and mental health.”
CNN has reached out to the Mississippi Department of Corrections and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, who was sworn in Tuesday.
Rappers wrote to Mississippi governor
In a January 9 letter to the governor’s office and Hall, Team Roc wrote that if “immediate steps” weren’t taken to address the problem, the team was “prepared to pursue all potential avenues to obtain relief for the people living in Mississippi’s prisons and their families.”
“We cannot treat people this way, and it’s time to do something about it,” Alex Spiro, who co-signed that letter and also represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said.
The prison deaths, the letter says, are a “predictable – and entirely preventable – consequences of Mississippi’s utter disregard for the people it has incarcerated.”
“These inhumane conditions are unconstitutional,” it says. “The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment and is violated when prison officials fail to protect against prison-related violence and when prison conditions fail to meet basic human needs.”
CNN’s Jamiel Lynch contributed to this report.