New York – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on the Department of Justice to immediately investigate the circumstances at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where a power outage has left inmates without heat or lighting the past few days.
“Disturbing reports have surfaced that the federal government left more than a thousand prisoners without heat, hot water or electricity during subzero temperatures at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn,” Cuomo said in a statement.
He said the allegations are a violation of human decency and dignity for the inmates, and may be illegal.
“Prisoners in New York are human beings. Let’s treat them that way,” Cuomo said.
Many inmates at the federal detention center sat in their cold and dark cells Saturday and Sunday because of a partial power outage, said the director of Federal Defenders of New York David Patton and a representative for the union representing the facility’s workers.
Federal officials said work to fix the power situation will not be finished until Monday.
One US representative who visited the facility on Saturday told WPIX that the temperature was as low as 49 degrees in the detention center.
“The heat is sporadic and it’s uneven,” Nydia Velázquez told the station.
It’s been a trying situation for more than a day, Patton said.
“Lighting is down. No light in the cells. All locked down since Thursday night. That’s going on for at least 36 hours. When the sun goes down it’s pitch dark. Inmates who have medical conditions can’t read the instructions on the medications,” Patton said.
Protesters gathered outside the building on Saturday. Some carried signs with the words, “Shut it down,” “Torture at the MDC,” and other sayings.
Gabriel Pedreira, an organizer for the local branch of the American Federation of Government Employees, said they are concerned for the health and safety of the employees, who are being “forced to work in freezing temperatures.”
Medical staff have checked inmates at the facility and “continue to check each inmate cell-by-cell periodically and continue to dispense required medications and address the medical needs of the inmate population,” according to an updated statement from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Power outage comes amid cold temperatures
Pedreira said federal prison officers are working while wearing hats, coats and scarves.
The National Weather Service said the temperatures this week have been in the teens overnight. On Sunday, the low will be around 30 degrees and the high is expected to be in the lower 40s. The low Monday morning will be in the upper 30s.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Twitter that the city is sending hundreds of blankets and hand warmers to the detention center and that generators will be made available.
“We’ve told the Federal Bureau of Prisons the supplies are coming,” the mayor added.
The Bureau of Prisons said the facility had a fire in the room housing electrical switches and one of the two buildings had a partial power outage. A new electrical panel has been installed but crews need to restore power.
The buildings have emergency lighting, spokeswoman Valery Logan said. She said inmates have hot water in their sinks and in showers.
Bob McGee, a spokesman for power company Con Edison, said they are ready to reconnect the electricity once repairs are completed.
“It is unacceptable, illegal, and inhumane to detain people without basic amenities, access to counsel, or medical care,” New York Attorney General Letitia A. James said in a statement. “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.”
The facility houses 1,654 inmates. According to the BOP website, “(Such) facilities are institutions with special missions, such as the detention of pretrial offenders; the treatment of inmates with serious or chronic medical problems; or the containment of extremely dangerous, violent, or escape-prone inmates.”