Lawmakers Call Conditions at Brooklyn Prison a Human Rights Violation
Update, Sunday, 1:15 p.m.: In an increasingly tense situation, corrections officers reportedly have pepper sprayed some demonstrators at the prison’s entrance.
Original post continues here:
The heat and power crisis at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Centercontinued over the weekend as hundreds of detainees were forced to endure unbearably frigid temperatures and a lack of power due to an electrical fire and other infrastructure problems.
Detainees hadn’t been able to contact family members for days and were forced to live in temperatures hovering just above the freezing point in short-sleeve clothing and without blankets. It took an emergency visit by lawmakers and a Saturday night delivery by New York City’s Emergency Management services of blankets, hand warmers, and generators to provide some relief.
NYC Council member Brad Lander, who inspected MDC with Rep. Nydia Velazquez, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Rep. Carolyn Maloney and others on Saturday, said that conditions at the prison and a lack of action by the Federal Bureau of Prisons was “a human rights violation.”
A large crowd of protesters, including family members and loved ones of detainees inside, continued to gather outside the prison on Saturday night.
Mayor Bill de Blasio intervened Saturday evening by sending the blankets and the generators, stating on Twitter that, “The people inside have a right to dignity and safety and we won’t stand by while the Federal Bureau of Prisons fails them.”
The Federal Bureau of Prisons finally issued a statement earlier in the day saying that emergency lighting is on and a crew is working to restore power, but that work won’t be completed until at least Monday. The statement said detainees have hot water for showers and hot water in their sinks. But detainee telephones, computers, and televisions remain inoperable, the statement said. The bureau did not say whether heat had been restored, or if not, when it would be, or what current conditions are.
Earlier this week, temperatures inside the prison had dropped to about 34 degrees. Lawmakers said the temperature inside the prison during their tour of the facilities this weekend was about 49 degrees, CNN reported.
The crisis at MDC, where more than 1,600 people are detained and have been “largely confined to their freezing, dark cells for nearly a week,” according to The New York Times, reportedly was caused by an electrical fire in the switch gear room. A new electrical panel was installed on Saturday, according to the prison bureau, but power won’t be restored until Monday. Additionally, coils in the building’s heating system are thought to have frozen and broken, leading to the lack of heat.
In an emailed response to The New York Times, a spokeswoman for the prison’s warden appears not to have been forthcoming with a reporter, along with the bureau. Per a report on Friday:
A spokeswoman for Herman Quay, the jail’s warden, said in an email that the building experienced a partial power outage on Saturday but denied that it had affected heat and hot water in the jail’s housing units.In an emailed statement, the federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed that the jail was “experiencing a partial power outage” and operating on emergency power. “Cells have heat and hot water, there is lighting in the common areas and inmates are receiving hot meals,” the agency said.
Nadler criticized the warden for a “total lack of urgency and concern,” according to the Times. Officials also said prison management initially rejected an offer by the city to provide generators and emergency blankets, the newspaper said. And it took a court order to force a visit Friday night by the lead federal and public defender in the Brooklyn office, Deirdre von Dornum.
“I appreciate all the elected officials, BK Defenders and concerned NYers who joined together today for not allowing this outrageous behavior to stand. We will keep fighting until this is resolved,” Velazquez tweeted.