The singer was sentenced to 30 years following his conviction for racketeering and sex trafficking last fall.
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R. Kelly is suing the Metropolitan Detention Center Brooklyn after being placed on suicide watch for what his lawyer claims are "purely punitive reasons" because he's a "high-profile inmate."

The "I Believe I Can Fly" singer, 55, was sentenced to 30 years in prison Wednesday following his conviction for racketeering and sex trafficking last fall. Now his lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, is arguing that his Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment are being violated.

"MDC has a policy of placing high-profile individuals under the harsh conditions of suicide watch whether they are suicidal or not (this was done recently with Ghislaine Maxwell)," Bonjean told PEOPLE in a statement.

R. Kelly pleads not guilty to a new indictment before Judge Lawrence Flood at Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago on June 6, 2019. - R&B star R. Kelly pleaded not guilty Thursday in a Chicago courtroom to 11 new felony sex crime charges. The charges were a refiling of one of the four cases of alleged abuse that prosecutors lodged against the singer earlier this year. (Photo by E. Jason Wambsgans / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read E. JASON WAMBSGANS/AFP via Getty Images)
R. Kelly in court
| Credit: E. JASON WAMBSGANS/AFP via Getty

Bonjean argues in the court documents that suicide watch "can and does cause serious mental harm" to a non-suicidal inmate because of its harsh restrictions.

"Inmates are stripped of their clothing and underwear and dressed in a smock made of material that is akin to the material that moving companies use when wrapping furniture," the complaint alleges. "They cannot shower or shave, and are sometimes not even afforded toilet paper. Meals are not provided with utensils, forcing inmates to eat with their hands. They have no ability to consult with loved ones or supportive figures."

In addition, the complaint states that inmates on suicide watch are "typically placed in a single cell without bed rails and offered no items of comfort" while prison officials monitor them around the clock. According to the complaint, the inmates do not receive psychiatric care.

In the statement to PEOPLE, Bonjean said that MDC Brooklyn is being run "like a gulag."

"My partner and I spoke with Mr. Kelly following his sentencing," she wrote. "He expressed that he was mentally fine and ONLY expressed concern that even though he was NOT suicidal, MDC would place him on suicide watch (as they did following the guilty verdict)."

R. Kelly
R. Kelly appearing in court in Chicago
| Credit: Antonio Perez - Pool via Getty Images

A representative for the Federal Bureau of Prisons did not provide PEOPLE with a comment specifically about Kelly's incarceration.

"For safety and security reasons the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) does not provide information about conditions of confinement or internal security practices for any particular inmate," reads a statement from the BOP provided to PEOPLE. "The BOP is committed to ensuring the safety and security of all inmates in our population, our staff, and the public. Humane treatment of the men and women in our custody is a top priority. The BOP does not comment on pending litigation or matters that are the subject of legal proceedings."

MDC Brooklyn is one of the facilities overseen by the BOP.

Kelly faced a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison. Prosecutors had requested at least 25 years in their sentencing memo, pointing to "the seriousness of the offenses, the need for specific deterrence, and the need to protect the public from further crimes."

When New York federal Judge Ann Donnelly handed down the sentence, she said, "This case is not about sex. It is about violence, cruelty, and control."

Kelly was arrested in Chicago in February 2019 on charges of aggravated sexual abuse. He was later indicted on federal charges of racketeering and conspiracy for creating a network to locate girls and transport them across state lines for him to abuse.

Kelly's predatory behavior toward women and underage girls is chronicled in Chicago reporter Jim DeRogatis' 2019 book Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly and Lifetime's 2019 Surviving R. Kelly documentary series. 

He is set to go on trial for the Chicago charges in August. He also faces charges of child pornography and obstruction of justice in Minnesota.

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