Conditions At Frozen Brooklyn Jail Finally Upgraded To 'Victorian'
After a week of being in lockdown without electricity or heat, prisoners held at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn finally were treated to the luxury of minimally livable conditions again Sunday night. A fire knocked out the jail's electricity and heat January 27, during record cold temperatures, leading to protests by families over the weekend and a whole bunch of lawsuits. Thank goodness the Federal Bureau of Prisons got right on that, so at least nobody died, good job guys, promotions all around!
The MDC is mostly used to house federal prisoners who are awaiting trial, so most of the people freezing and sitting in the dark were, if you want to get all technical about it, still innocent until proven guilty, not that anyone in any prison should go without heat when the outside temperatures are subzero. We'd go so far as to suggest to Fox News that the people held in the MDC actually have it a whole lot worse than, say, Paul Manafort or Roger Stone, the only prisoners to ever elicit the least bit of empathy from conservatives.
By Sunday night, NPR reports, things were beginning to get back to normal, by which we mean shitty, but not as shitty as they'd been for the prior week:
Emergency generators were on, and heat had been restored to parts of the federal jail, but public officials and lawyers who toured the facility again Sunday told reporters not everyone had heat and some inmates were going without their medication.
Full power was restored later Sunday night, and jail officials said heat was back Monday, although the New York Timesnotes "there were conflicting accounts about whether all inmates had access to heat."
Adam Klasfeld of Courthouse News Service has a Twitter thread detailing the awful conditions in the jail; here's a sample.
Good morning from New York. I'll be live-tweeting a hearing today at 11 a.m. in the case of #MDCBrooklyn inmate Jo… https://t.co/duXYsANUXa— Adam Klasfeld (@Adam Klasfeld) 1549381291.0
Klasfeld is indeed live-tweeting that hearing right now.
After families began protesting the conditions late last week, local, state, and federal officials started making noise too, and were eventually allowed to tour the the jail over the weekend. US Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who represents the area, condemned the utter incompetence that led to the conditions:
"It is very apparent that there is a massive failure of caring here, a massive failure of proper supervision, a massive failure of planning," [...]
Nadler said there was heat in several parts of the building, but many cells remained frigid. He said the warden told him 600 blankets from the city had been distributed. But [New York City] council member [Brad] Lander, who was also on the tour, said he didn't see any blankets in any of the cells they visited.
Scott Hechinger, a public defender with Brooklyn Defender Services (whose Twitter feed everyone should follow), was disgusted:
I shared this update 18 hours ago. The moment a van arrived with hundreds of blankets to provide freezing inmates a… https://t.co/d58kuCfzdj— Scott Hechinger (@Scott Hechinger) 1549223296.0
Rep. Nadler chairs the House Judiciary Committee, so expect hearings. The Justice Department also says it will investigate what went wrong, according to DOJ spokeperson Wyn Hornbuckle:
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.
The DOJ has reportedly hired the little coffee-sipping dog from the cartoon where the whole room is on fire to prepare the report. Gee, if only old Antonin Scalia were still around to rule that the conditions didn't constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" since, hey, nobody was actually sentenced to endure all that.
Now that the immediate crisis is over -- with only a few protesters pepper-sprayed, so hooray we guess -- federal judges are responding to the mess with orders demanding the government get its frozen shit together. During the power outage and lockdown, people at the MDC were denied the chance to meet with their attorneys; the jail was ordered to resume letting lawyers see their clients, because Constitution. Not even that went seamlessly, though:
Some legal visits resumed Monday but were quickly ended midmorning after the police said a staff member at the jail received a bomb threat. The authorities evaluated the threat, and the jail returned to "normal" operations, according to a statement issued by the Bureau of Prisons.
The judge in one of the pending cases, Analisa Torres, will visit the MDC today, to see whether conditions have improved since representatives of the federal defenders office toured the place Friday. She intends to keep the jail's officials accountable:
Judge Torres had already ordered Bureau of Prisons officials to appear before her at a hearing on Tuesday to examine the inmate's claims about conditions at the M.D.C. The judge is to tour the jail after hearing testimony in court about the case.
Prosecutors in the case before Judge Torres asked late Monday that she postpone the hearing, saying that "living conditions at M.D.C. are evolving and continue to require intensive work by M.D.C. personnel."
This is the hearing being live-twote by Adam Klasfeld, so spoiler alert, no delay.
The prosecutors' letter went on to say the jail officials are just all kinds of busy dealing with fixing stuff at the jail and also dealing with "numerous urgent court proceedings regarding living conditions" that seem to have mysteriously cropped up and all need the officials' "simultaneous attention."
We really like Judge Torres. Here's her response to that request for a delay, in full:
Torres is just one of several judges handling the aftermath of this clusterfuck; kudos also to Judge LaShann DeArcy Hall, who ordered the resumption of visits with lawyers, writing that
"There is no question" that inmates' right to attorney visits are protected under the constitution.
The judge said concerns raised by the government about security at the jail did not permit "the wholesale denial" of detainees' right to counsel.
It's almost like there's some pattern here where Trump's government fucks up again and again (hey, presto, the head of the Bureau of Prisons is another "acting" appointee) and then the courts have to step in to fix things. At least nobody seems to have died this time, although the NPR story notes that once lawyers were allowed to meet with their clients at the MDC again, they "reported coughing fits from everyone in the meeting room."
Hell of a way to run a country. But at least we're building a big beautiful wall, so everything will be great again.
[NPR / NYT / Adam Klasfeld on Twitter / Image: Wikimedia Commons]
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.