Federal jail in Brooklyn has gone a week without heat

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Inmates are banging on windows and flashing their lights to onlookers on the street. They’re stuffing sheets and blankets into vents to keep the frigid air out of their cells.

This is the scene inside of the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal jail in Brooklyn. Prisoners on in the 14-story jail have been calling for help as the facility has apparently been without heat, electricity, hot water, and warm food for more than a week.

“They’re just waiting for a disaster to happen,” Rhonda Barnwell, who works in the jail’s medical station said to the New York Daily News. “There’s only heat in the afternoons since we’ve been complaining today. It’s been really bad. It’s been very dangerous.”

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Rep. Nydia Velazquez toured the facility on Friday and demanded the Justice Department and Bureau of Prisons come up with a way to fix it.

“When I asked [staff] they said that they provided blankets for anyone who said that they’re too cold,” she said. “That is what they’re telling us. How can we verify that that is the right information?”

Problems with heat at the federal facility started coming out last week. The Legal Aid Society complained about freezing conditions at both the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, as well as the Manhattan Correctional Center.

In a letter dated Jan. 22 there are references to several complaints from the Prisoners’ Rights Project about “the absence of heat over the last few days.”

In a Jan. 31 letter to Judge Nicholas Garoufis, the legal team for alleged NXIVM cult founder Keith Raniere complained of “extreme deprivation,” 44-degree temperatures and the failure to provide their client with “any means” to keep warm.

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“MDC has been without heat, electricity, hot water, commissary or warm food since Jan. 27, 2019, following an apparent fire in the institution,” the letter said. “Raniere has also informed us that the corrections officers are wearing masks to mask the smell of noxious fumes, but have not provided any masks to the inmates.”

After the fire last Sunday, the next day, the inmates received no lunch and only cold food for dinner. Some who are on restricted diets either got only bread or went without.

Many tried to block vents in their cells with clothing and blankets to keep the frigid air out, he said.

City Councilman Brad Lander described the prison as the #SunsetParkGulag and tweeted:  “The freezing prisoners at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park are banging out SOS for all of us to hear,” he tweeted.

 

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