By Stacy M. Brown | WI Senior Writer

Conditions at the notorious Parchman Prison in Mississippi have “substantially improved” since Jay-Z, a hip-hop star and business mogul, filed a lawsuit demanding better conditions for the thousands of people who are locked up there.

The superstar’s management company, Roc Nation, said that it would drop its lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections now that the maximum-security prison for men has been greatly improved.

In a statement, attorney Jordan Siev, a partner at Reed Smith LLP in New York who works with Roc Nation, said, “We are happy with the changes that have been made so far and the improvements in the day-to-day lives of the guys inside.”

“But we’re also aware that Parchman has a long history of lawsuits, improvements, and then conditions that get worse again,” Siev added.

The Jackson, Mississippi, newspaper Clarion Ledger says that the Justice Department started looking into Parchman in 2020 after watchdog groups said there was more violent crime, less control over gangs, and living conditions that were less than human.

Built on an old slave plantation, Parchman is said to have broken numerous constitutional statutes.

Leaked cell phone footage from inside the prison at the start of the coronavirus pandemic showed that inmates were living in places that were flooded, full of bugs, and full of rats.
Mold was everywhere in the building, and the food was often rotten or, at the very least, unhealthy.

In 2020, Daniele Selby wrote for The Innocence Project that slavery, racist Jim Crow laws, and hateful lynchings have left a legacy of mass incarceration and a disproportionate number of Black people in jail.

“Nowhere is that more clear than in prisons like the Mississippi State Penitentiary, also known as Parchman Farm, and Louisiana’s Angola Prison, which were built on and modeled after slave plantations and where several Innocence Project clients have been locked up,” Selby determined.

She went on to say, “Racial bias and discrimination have always been a part of the criminal justice and law enforcement system, and they still are at every level of the system today. With your help, the Innocence Project is determined to fix these problems.”

As a result of Roc Nation’s lawsuit and a subsequent – and ongoing – DOJ investigation, prison officials said they would make changes like giving the medical center at Parchman two working ambulances instead of an old van; installing new stainless-steel showers, toilets, and sinks; upgrading the heating, air conditioning, ventilation, and plumbing systems; adding basketball, flag football, and boxing as recreational activities; replacing broken tiles and getting rid of mold; and putting up a new fence around the property.

“We are pleased that improvements have been made inside,” Siev asserted, noting that Roc Nation may revisit the suit if officials allow the prison to deteriorate again. “But we’re also not going to take our foot off the gas.”