Somewhere, Lee Daniels is having a really good laugh.
Seven prisoners from a South Carolina jail are now facing a total of 20 years in solitary confinement after making and releasing the rap music video above on World Star Hip Hop from behind bars.
A researcher from the Electronic Frontier Foundation obtained records of the punishment by South Carolina’s Department of Corrections (SCDC) showing that five of the prisoners were punished with 180 days of “disciplinary detention” as the others were punished with 270 and 360 days for producing content and using social media.
In addition, the inmates were punished for posing a security threat through their gang-related materials and their contraband phone; these infractions were punished so severely that their sentences to solitary confinement were extended to over 19 years combined.
Solitary confinement wasn’t the only thing prisoners were disciplined with; the inmates were also stripped of years worth of canteen, phone and visitation privileges. The group members in the video are all in prison for serious crimes like robbery, burglary and voluntary manslaughter.
Dave Maass, the researcher who discovered the case spoke to Buzzfeed news explaining:
“When the video went viral the first time, viewers caught a fleeting glimpse of the creative energy that exists behind bars…Now that we know how dearly each inmate paid for their participation, the video takes on all new significance. People in this country are still sacrificing their freedom and well-being for expression.”
The SDC has already been criticized for what some are calling exorbitant or cruel and unusual punishment against inmates for using social media. The case also speaks to the current debates on what levels of solitary confinement are appropriate for inmates and whether this type of punishment is constitutional.
David Fathi, the director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project said:
“They’re finding them guilty of a separate violations of creating or assisting with social networking site. That seems like a First Amendment violation on its face.”
Fathi continued to say that research shows solitary confinement is damaging to individuals’ physical and mental health. In fact, a United Nations torture expert has demanded that solitary confinement sentences exceeding 15 days be abolished.
In February, the SCDC ruled that 60 days would be the new maximum for each offense exhibited by one of its inmates. However, Spokesperson Stephanie Givens has maintained that the case has been thoroughly reviewed and the punishments for each prisoner have been deemed appropriate for their infractions.