Brooklyn prisoners left in dark with little heat in polar vortex weather

by Kim Boateng Posted on February 3rd, 2019

New York City: A federal prison in Brooklyn, N.Y., reportedly has partial heat and electricity as the city’s temperature dropped as low as 3 degrees Fahrenheit this week.

Since Jan. 5, the Metropolitan Detention Center in the Sunset Park neighborhood has had limited electricity for the more than 1,600 inmates housed there, The New York Times reported. An electrical pane blew out last month, union leaders told the newspaper, and after it was repaired, it caught fire Sunday. A new electrical panel should be installed by Monday, said the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The heating issues, which started last week and were unrelated to the electrical problems, occurred last Saturday when units that draw water up from the boilers froze, according to union leaders who spoke to facilities workers.

New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio posted on Twitter the Federal Bureau of Prisons was refusing the city’s help “even as their incompetence is on full display for the world.” Earlier, he wrote that he was sending city agencies to the jail to assess the situation.

On Saturday, several politicians protested conditions with other demonstrators outside the jail to demand the Federal Bureau of Prisons “immediately restore heat, power, phones & safety,” according to a Twitter post by Brad Lander, NYC council member.

Lander, after visiting the jail Saturday, he said “the lack of action by the Federal Bureau of Prisons is really a human rights violation.”

“I’m thinking is my son hurt, is he hungry, is he cold, is he sick? I came to see him last Wednesday and they put up a sign that said there are no visits,” Cheryl Roberts, 60, said about her 32-year-old Jamel told the Daily News outside the prison Saturday.

“I want to say to the warden that they’re human beings. They have to pay their debt to society, of course, but they don’t have to treat them like animals.”

The Federal Bureau of Prisons in a statement sent to NBC News said the jail has been experiencing a partial power outage, but it was “operating on emergency power, cells have heat and hot water, there is lighting in the common areas and inmates are receiving hot meals.”

Although inmates have “essential personal hygiene items and medical services” their access to phones and inmate messaging, as well as commissary is “temporarily affected,” the statement read.

“Con Edison has been dealing with numerous power emergencies in the community. MDC Brooklyn is working with Con Edison to resolve the issue as soon as possible,” the statement read.

But Bob McGee, a Con Edison spokesman, told NBC News that the problem is related to problems inside the jail and its responsibility. “Con Edison stands ready to reconnect the Center once they’ve completed their repairs,” he said.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, called on the prison to move inmates to a different location.

“It is shocking that the government would hold people for days on end in a dark, freezing jail during one of the coldest weeks in memory,” Lieberman said in a statement to NBC News. “People incarcerated at the Metropolitan Detention Center) deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, not forced to struggle to survive in dangerously freezing temperatures.”

New York Attorney Gideon Orion Oliver on Saturday tweeted a court document that showed U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres had directed the Bureau of Prisons to appear in court on Tuesday because prisoners were being kept in “disturbing living conditions.”

Image: The Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison in Brooklyn, N.Y., reportedly has had limited heat and electricity as the city’s temperature dropped as low as 3 degrees Fahrenheit this week.

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