Cruel and Unusual Punishment: Brooklyn Inmates Went Without Power, Heat for a Week

On Jan. 27, Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park had an electrical fire and roughly 1,600 inmates were affected.

The facility was basically running on backup electricity for over a week putting inmates in danger of freezing to death among other things. The inmates did not have access to hot food, heat or the ability to contact attorneys, friends and family.

What was most daunting is the prisoners took a united stand by banging against the jail windows and some of them waved lights inside so that they could be seen. They endured a week of living in the cruelest and harshest conditions during the coldest time of the year.

Neither officials nor politicians took the lives and well-being of the inmates seriously. Among a few of the politicians to visit the inmates was Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY). She wanted to convey their emotions.

“The inmates are very, very angry and complaining,” said Rep. Nydia Velazquez. “We expressed our frustration that the warden is not approaching this with a sense of urgency.

Initially, Velazquez wasn’t allowed to see the inmates although the facility is within the district she represents. However, her first opportunity to visit the facility happened this past Saturday after seeing news reports that hundreds of inmates are being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.

She visited the facility with fellow Democratic Congress members Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney as well as city and state lawmakers, and this time the elected officials spoke with inmates.

“After visiting MDC again today it is clear the officials there have disregarded the basic human rights of inmates. This appalling situation needs to be fixed and I will continue pressuring BOP for immediate action,” Velazquez tweeted Saturday.

State Sen. Zellnor Myrie, who represents the district, tweeted that the Bureau of Prisons had “gave us incoherent explanations and showed no sense of urgency, and little desire to address the crisis at hand.”

The conditions are considered abominable by human rights advocates.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, released a statement: “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.”

The power has now been restored but it’s not certain if it’s due to the Department of Justice’s intervention.

A statement was issued by Wyn Hornbuckle, Deputy Director of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of Justice:

“The electrical power at the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility at MDC Brooklyn was restored at approximately 6:30 p.m. (Sunday) evening. With the heat and hot water operational, and the restoration of electrical power, the facility can now begin to return to regular operations. In the coming days, the Department will work with the Bureau of Prisons to examine what happened and ensure the facility has the power, heat and backup systems in place to prevent the problem from reoccurring.”


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