1,600 inmates had been forced to remain in their cells without reliable heat, lights, hot food or showers for the better part of a week of freezing temperatures at a federal detention center, the Metropolitan Detention Center in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn.
The trouble began on January 27. Inmates had been on lockdown in their cold cells for days. Jail officials told the visiting lawmakers that a power outage sparked by a fire had made it unsafe to allow the prisoners out of their cells. At the same time visiting hours and communication with family members were also cut off. A court order was necessary before the legal advocacy group Federal Defenders of New York was allowed to enter the facility on Friday.
Relatives of inmates protesting near facility
Councilman Brad Lander, who visited the jail on Saturday, said the warden and facilities manager were dismissive about concerns over the welfare of inmates. The Federal Bureau of Prisons said in a statement Saturday night promised to restore power on Monday. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the jail and the circumstances that led to the power outage. "Prisoners in New York are human beings. Let's treat them that way," he said. On Saturday night, de Blasio instructed New York City Emergency Management to deliver blankets, hand warmers and generators “whether they like it or not." While the power has been restored, local Democratic representatives who toured the jail on Saturday continued to criticize the conditions inside.