Protesters took to social media and vowed to keep up the pressure on federal officials for failing to provide heat for inmates at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, in what demonstrators said is a clear human rights violation.
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The federal Bureau of Prisons said Saturday they expected to restore power by Monday to the detention center where inmates have gone without heat and electricity for a week, WCBS-TV reported.
However, that’s too little too late for some elected officials who added their voices to the outrage amid reports of inmates suffering in their cells during the blast of arctic air that descended across the region.
“The reported conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center are appalling. Prisoners and detainees have rights and those rights must be enforced. My office is in touch with legal service providers and inmates’ attorneys, and closely monitoring this deeply disturbing situation,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James who described the situation as “unacceptable, illegal, and inhumane.”
Federal prison authorities said the jail, where people await trial or sentencing on federal crimes, had a partial power outage from a fire in the switchgear room. The officials insisted that air temperatures were at an acceptable range.
But several elected officials pushed back, saying temperatures have fallen to as low as 49 degrees in some cells.
“I am frustrated. This is America. In America, everyone has rights. It’s a violation of their human rights to be kept in the cold and not to be able to talk to anyone,” said New York’s Democratic Rep. Nydia Velazquez.
The loss of heat happened as the polar vortex caused temperatures to drop dangerously low in New York and several other, mostly Midwest, states. This comes on the heels of an uproar over inmates who were seen shoveling snow in Chicago on Jan. 28 as record cold weather approached—fueling the debate of modern slavery in the nation’s prison system.
A Cook County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson insisted the next day that the department did nothing wrong, saying that the inmates had insulated jumpsuits, gloves and a warming van nearby. She added that they were also paid $2 for the job, according to the Chicago Tribune.
That defense was hardly reassuring to inmate advocate groups. Sharlyn Grace, co-executive director of the Chicago Community Bond Fund, said she had concerns about whether the prisoners were properly compensated for the work, as well as concerns about their safety in the extreme weather.
Lawyers for some of the Brooklyn inmates complained that they have not been able to speak to their clients.
“I need to find out what’s going on with my clients,” lawyer Ezra Spilke said Friday, according to WCBS. “They’ve basically been incommunicado from their attorneys since the 27th, which is when the electrical fire happened.”
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