A Brooklyn detention center that went several days without heat or light during last week’s polar vortex had its power restored Sunday, but the troubling conditions reported at the federal jail have prompted several judges to investigate complaints. At least one plans on touring the facility Tuesday to examine the facilities firsthand.
The Bureau of Prisons confirmed on Sunday that power was finally restored to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. The jail houses 1,600 inmates, most of whom are awaiting trial. Last week, as the polar vortex caused temperatures in New York to plunge to as low as 2 degrees Fahrenheit, inmates at the jail went without heat, light, or hot water.
News of the MDC’s conditions incited protests outside the jail and an outcry on social media, where celebrities and elected officials decried the inhumane conditions. On Sunday, protesters—many of whom had rallied outside the facility through the weekend—attempted to enter the jail and were pushed back by corrections officers. Protesters say they were also pepper sprayed.
According to the New York Times, which first reported the conditions at the detention center, the heating began to give out on Jan. 20, with an electrical fire on Jan. 27 putting the MDC on “emergency power.” For the last week, inmates held at MDC were on partial lockdown, “without access to phones or computers they use to request medicine,” writes the Times, citing federal defenders.
Legal visits were also canceled at MDC last week, which prompted accusations that the jail had violated the inmates’ right to counsel. A judge has ordered MDC to allow those inmates, many of whom have not been convicted of a crime, to start meeting with their attorneys again.
As of Tuesday, it’s still unclear whether all inmates have access to heat, despite federal officials saying the heat was back on.
On Twitter, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called on the Department of Justice to investigate conditions at the facility, while New York Attorney General Letitia James released a statement condemning the situation.
“It is unacceptable, illegal, and inhumane to detain people without basic amenities, access to counsel, or medical care,” James said. “The reported conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center are appalling. Prisoners and detainees have rights and those rights must be enforced. My office is in touch with legal service providers and inmates’ attorneys, and closely monitoring this deeply disturbing situation.”
A DOJ spokesperson, Wyn Hornbuckle, confirmed that the Justice Department would be opening an inquiry into what happened at the jail, as well as ensuring the facility “has the power, heat and backup systems in place to prevent the problem from reoccurring,” reports CNN.
Yesterday, federal Judge Analisa Torres conducted a two-hour tour of the facilities; also planning tours were a senior lawyer at the federal defenders office, Deirdre von Dornum, and an investigator with the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn, reports the Times.
“I think it’s important that the judge see the conditions at the MDC firsthand,” von Dornum told the paper. “[There] may have been significant changes in those conditions in recent days.”