Activists, elected officials cry “inhumane” treatment for 1,600 inmates left to freeze for almost a week in New York jail.
Sunday night, demonstrators outside the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn cheered continuously as they saw lights in the jail flicker back on after almost a week of no heat or power. The supportive yells and hand claps ran in tandem with inmates who beat against the windows.
Although the pounding of those incarcerated gave off rhythmic sounds of applause, hours before, the pitter-patter were signals of distress. For days, protestors and inmates worked tirelessly to bring attention to freezing temperatures inside the jail.
“We got some mutherfucking electricity in this bitch,” proclaimed activist and hip hop artist Mysonne in a post on his Instagram page documenting the days-long protest he organized called, the Justice Bowl.
Moments later he posted celebratory remarks acknowledging the hundreds of demonstrators who remained steadfast in their protests against the conditions of the facilities. “If you out here right now, you are my brother or my sister because we have the same moral compass. We believe in humanity.”
Treatment of inmates, staff in crisis draws criticism
After a fire debilitated the jail’s already broken electrical system the Sunday prior, the detention center, located in the South Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn kept inmates on a massive lock down while staff attempted to operate the facility without heat or adequate power. To make matters worse, the failed infrastructure occurred during last week’s record breaking polar vortex conditions that resulted in subzero temperatures.
When family members and public defenders, like Deirdre von Dornum began intercepting calls about the jail conditions, they heard stories of frigid cells, as well as, the lack of basic provisions such as hot food, consistent meals and showers.
While jail officials proclaimed all was well, the reports from the inside drastically contrasted. Even guards said they were extremely cold. A leaked video released by The Savoy Show, captured footage by inmates in MDC.
“The A/C on but they can’t put the heat on . . . they shut us down when they want, they lock us down when they want . . . it’s cold its freezing in here,” described one inmate of the conditions.
One of the detainees in the video also said that people were getting sick and the toilets did not work. They showed a stopped up toilet with feces floating in it. When jailed cameramen showed the common area, detainees were using shirts for blankets because reports back said that the facility lacked extra covering and inmates could not buy additional clothing through commissary.
Added to insider accounts, on the outside, family members were unable to call or visit the jail to check in on incarcerated relatives because communication systems were down too. Included were legal representation who were blocked out.
“In freezing temperatures such as we have experienced in the last week is nothing short of torture in that facility and the administration knows this, but clearly doesn’t care,” says Northeastern Illinois University Justice Studies professor and re-entry program developer, Rolanda West Spencer.
Elected officials question jail conditions
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries described the situation as “inhumane conditions.” He, along with Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) toured MDC to speak with jail officials and perform wellness checks on some of the 1,600 inmates, who are both men and women.
Congresswoman Vasquez reported:
After visiting MDC it appears there is some restored heat, hot water & hot meals being served.
Still not at full capacity.
Still cold & dark. As we weren’t allowed to speak with inmates, unclear if blankets are being distributed.
Continuing to monitor this closely.
— Rep. Nydia Velazquez (@NydiaVelazquez) February 2, 2019
However, on Saturday, in a Twitter post on another tour, Congresswoman Velazquez said, “After visiting MDC again today it is clear the officials there have disregarded the basic human rights of inmates.”
In a post by Congressman Nadler and Congresswoman Velazquez, both told that they spoke with families and demonstrators outside of MDC before they met with staff. One of the issues that surfaced was concern for those who required medicine and regular food such as detainees who are diabetic, elderly, pregnant and must eat when they take prescriptions.
Back at #MDC right now. Talking to inmates family members outside on the prison. Lots of inmates with medical conditions and unsure if they’re getting their medicine. Will be going inside to talk to the warden. pic.twitter.com/nMVMlVUIoj
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) February 3, 2019
Electoral officials agreed with activists that the negligence in restoring basic amenities to jailed persons placed them in “terrible conditions” as stated by Congresswoman Maloney.
As the four congressional officials posted updates, they said that Con Edison, the power company that supplies MDC, was working to repair the electrical system.
Not until Saturday did New York City mayor Bill De Blasio step in. After mounting protests, calls to his office and questions on the situation, he sent blankets and generators to MDC.
New York City is sending trucks with hundreds of blankets and hand warmers to the Metropolitan Detention Center NOW and generators are being readied for transport. We’ve told the Federal Bureau of Prisons the supplies are coming – whether they like it or not.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) February 3, 2019
According to Mysonne, officials said that power would be turned on Monday. He vowed not to leave along with a team of activists who carried out ongoing protests. Now that heats and lights are restored, MDC works to re-implement visitation and assess the health of inmates. For some, a lawsuit is on the horizon.
“I would be interested to know if anyone died during this time. If so, I would call that murder, or at the very least, manslaughter,” remarked Spencer.