Jay-Z-backed lawsuit says company downplayed prison COVID-19 risks

An investor lawsuit backed by rap star Jay-Z is accusing Centene Corp. of providing substandard health-care at prisons during the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit is financially backed by Jay-Z’sRoc Nation media company. (Photo: Bloomberg)

Centene’s Centurion unit, which provides prison medical services for 16 states, is perpetrating “a grave injustice behind prison walls” by downplaying the risk of coronavirus infection to confined inmates, according to the complaint filed Wednesday in Delaware Chancery Court.

The suit filed by investor Laura Wood and financially backed by Jay-Z’s Roc Nation media company, specifically seeks records about health-care Centurion provided at Mississippi’s Parchman prison, where at least one inmate has died of COVID-19. Wood says she wants the records to evaluate whether Centene directors properly supervised its prison health-care units and if any lapses could jeopardize the company’s contracts with states.

Jay-Z has previously backed other efforts challenging Mississippi’s prison funding system.

“Centurion and its board of directors are proud of the company’s history of providing outstanding and innovative health-care solutions to this vulnerable population,” Centene spokeswoman Marcela Hawn said in a statement. “We look forward to sharing more about our role in the delivery of health-care to these individuals during legal proceedings.”

More than two million Americans are in custody on any given day, the most in any country. Many experts believe prisons, whose populations contain many vulnerable people and have medical care of varying levels of quality and availability, are particularly dangerous incubators for viral infections.

Jay-Z has previously backed efforts by Mississippi inmates challenging the state’s prison-funding system. Prisoners alleged in a suit filed in January that inmates were dying at an alarming rate because of deteriorating facilities. That same month, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves ordered one decrepit Parchman section, which had received media attention for its rat infestations and inoperable toilets, closed.