Power has been restored at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, where inmates spent several days without heat or lighting, according to a statement from the Bureau of Prisons.
“Staff are working to restore the facility to normal operations,” the statement said.
Many inmates spent the weekend sitting in frigid, dark cells because of the partial power outage, according to Director of Federal Defenders of New York David Patton and a representative for the union representing the facility’s workers.
With the heat and water now working at the prison, the Justice Department said it wants to make sure an incident like this doesn’t happen again.
“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,” Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said in a statement.
The restoration of power comes after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on the Department of Justice to immediately investigate the circumstances at the detention center.
“Disturbing reports have surfaced that the federal government left more than a thousand prisoners without heat, hot water or electricity during subzero temperatures at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn,” Cuomo said in a statement.
He said the allegations are a violation of human decency and dignity for the inmates, and may be illegal.
“Prisoners in New York are human beings. Let’s treat them that way,” Cuomo said.
One US congresswoman who visited the facility on Saturday told CNN affiliate WPIX that the temperature was as low as 49 degrees in the detention center.
“The heat is sporadic and it’s uneven,” Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-New York, told the station.
It had been a trying situation for more than a day, Patton said.
“Lighting is down. No light in the cells. All locked down since Thursday night. That’s going on for at least 36 hours. When the sun goes down it’s pitch dark. Inmates who have medical conditions can’t read the instructions on the medications,” Patton said.
Protesters gathered outside the building on Saturday. Some carried signs with the words, “Shut it down,” “Torture at the MDC,” and other sayings.
Some tried to force their way into the entrance of the prison, but were pushed back by guards using pepper spray.
Gabriel Pedreira, an organizer for the local branch of the American Federation of Government Employees, said they are concerned for the health and safety of the employees, who are being “forced to work in freezing temperatures.”
Medical staff have checked inmates at the facility and “continue to check each inmate cell-by-cell periodically and continue to dispense required medications and address the medical needs of the inmate population,” according to an updated statement from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Power outage came amid cold temperatures
Pedreira previously said federal prison officers are working while wearing hats, coats and scarves.
The National Weather Service said the temperatures this week have been in the teens overnight.
Earlier, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Twitter that the city was sending hundreds of blankets and hand warmers to the detention center and that generators will be made available.
“We’ve told the Federal Bureau of Prisons the supplies are coming,” the mayor added.
The Bureau of Prisons said the facility had a fire in the room housing electrical switches and one of the two buildings had a partial power outage. A new electrical panel has been installed.
The buildings have emergency lighting, spokeswoman Valery Logan said. She said inmates have hot water in their sinks and in showers.
Bob McGee, a spokesman for power company Con Edison, said they are ready to reconnect the electricity once repairs are completed.
“It is unacceptable, illegal, and inhumane to detain people without basic amenities, access to counsel, or medical care,” New York Attorney General Letitia A. James said in a statement. “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.”
The facility houses 1,654 inmates. According to the BOP website, “(Such) facilities are institutions with special missions, such as the detention of pretrial offenders; the treatment of inmates with serious or chronic medical problems; or the containment of extremely dangerous, violent, or escape-prone inmates.”