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Jay-Z funded lawsuits end after prison improvement

Lawyers hired by Jay-Z and other entertainers have ended two lawsuits they filed on behalf of Mississippi inmates in 2020 over what they said were extremely dirty living conditions at the state’s oldest prison facility.

The prison came under Justice Department scrutiny after outbursts of deadly violence by inmates.

Even before the violence at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman in late 2019 and early 2020, state health inspectors had found repeated problems with broken toilets and moldy showers.

Inmates said some cell doors did not lock, and it was common to see rats and roaches.

The lawsuits were dismissed on January 13 after the inmates’ attorneys and the state Department of Corrections said improvements have been made during the past three years, including installing air conditioning in most of the prison, renovating some bathrooms and updating the electrical, water and sewer systems.

In April of 2022, the US Justice Department issued a report that said Parchman had violated inmates’ constitutional rights.

The department said the prison failed to protect inmates from violence, meet their mental health needs or take adequate steps for suicide prevention, and that the prison had relied too much on prolonged solitary confinement.

The Justice Department spent two years investigating Parchman. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in April that Mississippi Department of Corrections officials cooperated with the investigation and pledged to resolve problems.

US District Judge Sharion Aycock in northern Mississippi filed the order this month dismissing the lawsuits that were funded by Jay-Z, rapper Yo Gotti, and Team Roc, the philanthropic arm of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.

In a court filing, attorneys for the plaintiffs and for the defendants in the Mississippi Department of Corrections agreed that nobody involved in the lawsuits admitted liability or responsibility to anyone else in the suits.

Parchman was founded in 1901 on the site of a former plantation. For decades, inmates worked in a farming operation that critics said was akin to slavery.

Writing by Tersoo Nicholas