A Brooklyn jail that houses more than 1,500 inmates has had limited heat and hot water during some of the coldest weather of the year, and the jail’s warden refuses to admit it’s an issue, the New York Times reported on Friday.
The Metropolitan Detention Center sits in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood, and like the rest of the Northeast, temperatures in the area have been brutally frigid this week. After a power outage and an electrical fire over the weekend, a stream of complaints and horror stories have come out of the federal prison. Per the Times:
Federal defenders said they were flooded with calls from inmates this week as temperatures began to drop. “Our phone was ringing off the hook,” said the lead federal defender in Brooklyn, Deirdre von Dornum. She said inmates, using a dedicated line that connects the jail to federal defenders offices, had gathered around the telephones on their floors to report poor heating, little to no hot water and no lights in their cells.
Heat was the main complaint. The heat was spotty to nonexistent, depending on the floor. Hot water was scarce. Hot food had not been served for several days, with canned food handed out cell by cell. One inmate, who kept kosher, said he had only been given canned sardines.
The inmates were promised extra blankets, but they never came. The commissary, because of the limited electricity, was closed.
According to a local union chapter president, the jail first lost power on Jan. 5. Then, last week, various cell floors started experiencing heat issues, with the temperatures dropping inside the housing units. The situation was made worse by an electrical fire that broke out on Sunday, forcing the jail to switch over to emergency power. The timing couldn’t have been worse as temperatures in the city plummeted to as low as 2 degree Fahrenheit. A paralegal told the Times an inmate said the temperature inside one of the housing units had been recorded at 34 degrees.
Rachel Bass, a paralegal with the Federal Defenders, said inmates are also complaining of congestion and sore throats from the cold.
“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,” she told the paper.
The worst of the story doesn’t end with the unnecessary suffering of the prisoners at Martin Shkreli’s old haunt, but with jail officials refusing to take any responsibility for the inmates’ basic wellbeing. A spokesperson for the jail’s warden conceded to the Times that the facility had a power outage on Saturday but claimed the heat and hot water in the housing portion of the jail were unaffected.
“All housing units have functional lighting,” she wrote in an email to the Times. “Heat and hot water has not been impacted. Likewise, inmate meals are not impacted; inmates are receiving regularly scheduled hot meals each day.”
These are serious issues—the brutal cold already has a death toll. On Thursday night, a FedEx employee in Illinois was found dead in the freezing weather outside a delivery hub, and the cold has also been blamed for at least 20 deaths across the country so far. Hopefully the prison’s warden, Herman Quay, will snap out of it and do something before people start freezing in their cells.