As the polar vortex blasts its way across the midwest, bringing record-breaking cold temperatures with arctic-like wind chill, more than a thousand prisoners confined to a Brooklyn-based federal detention facility have been left to languish without heat, lights or hot water for more than a week.
“People are frantic. They’re really, really scared.”
Lawyers representing the inmates say many of them lost contact with their clients after a fire broke out at the facility on January 27, 2019. A direct line between the federal defenders’ office and the jailhouse appears to be the only form of communication available to those locked in the building.
During an interview with the New York Times, lead federal defender in Brooklyn, Deirdre von Dornum said the direct line to the defenders office was ‘ringing off the hook’ with complaints from inmates regarding conditions inside the jail.
“In the past hour I have gotten 11 calls,” Rachel Bass, a paralegal with the Brooklyn defender’s office told the NYT on Friday. “People are frantic. They’re really, really scared. They don’t have extra blankets. They don’t have access to the commissary to buy an extra sweatshirt.”
Inmates are using flashlights to bang on windows, in a desperate plea for help.
Video taken from the street outside the decention center, on February 1, 2019, captures the haunting sound of hundreds of prisoners banging on windows inside the federal facility.
LISTEN: you’re hearing the sound of inmates using flashlights to bang on their cell windows at the #MetropolitanDetentionCenter #MDC. The federal @TheJusticeDept lockup in #Brooklyn has had reduced power and heat all week. #PolarVortex #ABC7NY pic.twitter.com/2BRFEq7ltM
— Josh Einiger (@JoshEiniger7) February 1, 2019
Prison officials deny there is anything wrong inside the facility, but workers paint a different picture.
Meanwhile, prison officials deny there is anything wrong inside the facility. The federal Bureau of Prisons acknowledges a “partial power outage,” but officials claim that inmates have heat, lights and hot water in their cells.
But workers employed at the federal facility told ABC 7 in Brooklyn that they too are struggling to provide basic services to inmates under intolerable conditions.
The health and safety of 1,600 inmates is at risk.
The Metropolitan Detention Center houses as many as 1,600 inmates, many of whom have yet to stand trial or be convicted of any crime. Yet, even the worst convicted criminal is still entitled to protection from cruel and unusual punishment under the United States Constitution.
Public pressure is needed to ensure the well-being of the people trapped inside. Concerned citizens who are in the New York area can join in the growing vigil of family and friends outside the facility. For those outside the area, here is a link to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website contact information.