Protesters in New York City rallied throughout the weekend at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where more than 1,600 prisoners were forced to endure freezing temperatures during last week’s polar vortex, with no heat, no light and no hot water. For several days, crowds gathered outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn to protest reports of freezing and dark conditions inside the jail after it partially lost power nearly a week ago.
Staff members and current and former prisoners at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center testified at a hearing that the heat at the federal detention facility started to fail as early as mid-January. The hearing came following reports that quickly spread over social media that over 1,600 prisoners were being held without heat, hot meals or electricity, including during last week’s polar vortex. Many inmates had been on lockdown in cells without electricity or heat during days of bitter cold temperatures.
After the hearing, Judge Analisa Torres visited the MDC herself to inspect conditions at the jail. After more than a week without heat and power, conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn showed signs of improvement. Emergency generators were on and heat had been restored to parts of the federal jail, but public officials and lawyers who toured the facility on Sunday February 3rd, told reporters that many cells still did not have heat and some inmates were going without their medication.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler said after touring several floors on Sunday, “It is very apparent that there is a massive failure of caring here, a massive failure of proper supervision, a massive failure of planning.” Nadler said there was heat in several parts of the building, but many cells remained frigid. He said the warden told him 600 blankets from the city had been distributed. But council member Lander, who was also on the tour, said he didn’t see any blankets in any of the cells they visited. It was later revealed that the blankets were never distributed to the inmates.
Nadler said he spoke with the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons, who seemed to be acting with more urgency after the protests began. The NYCLU is calling on the Bureau of Prisons to allow family and legal visits immediately. Executive director Donna Lieberman said in a statement “The confrontation between the Bureau of Prisons and family members of inmates at MDC highlights the desperate need to address the dangerous, inhumane and unlawful conditions inside the facility,” “This has gone on for far too long.
The Department of Justice has said it would work with the Bureau of Prisons to prevent future issues. “The electrical power at the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility at MDC Brooklyn was restored at approximately 6:30 pm this evening. With the heat and hot water operational, and the restoration of electrical power, the facility can now begin to return to regular operations. In the coming days, the Department will work with the Bureau of Prisons to examine what happened and ensure the facility has the power, heat and backup systems in place to prevent the problem from reoccurring.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also calling for a full investigation into what is happening at the facility. Cuomo wrote in a statement “I am calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to immediately investigate the circumstances at the Metropolitan Detention Center. New York State stands ready to provide any support necessary to keep the heat, hot water and electricity running at the Center and augment the investigation into those responsible for this mess.”