criminal justice system

Lawsuit Alleges ‘Inhumane’ Conditions in Frigid Brooklyn Jail

Protests outside of a Brooklyn federal prison facility. Photo: Gabriele Holtermann-Gorden/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Power was restored to the Metropolitan Detention Center Sunday night after more than 1,600 inmates spent a week without lights or heat at the Brooklyn jail. Lawyers, who were not allowed to visit their clients for a week, were also allowed into the jail Sunday. They reported desperate conditions.

“Psychologically, the lack of lighting just felt devastating,” Deirdre von Dornum, a lawyer with the Federal Defenders for the Eastern District of New York, told The Wall Street Journal.

On Monday, a lawsuit was filed by the federal public defenders’ office on behalf of its clients in the jail. The suit argues that keeping inmates from their lawyers violated their constitutional right to legal counsel. It also refers to the conditions inside the jail as a “humanitarian crisis” and cites “guards wearing scarves and layers of clothing” while inmates “coped with ‘very cold’ conditions in short-sleeve shirts and light pants,” according to the AP.

The suit, which accuses the Federal Bureau of Prisons of lying about conditions inside the jail, comes after days of protests, which began after inmates drew attention to their plight by making noise that could be heard on the streets below the jail.

Demonstrators spent the weekend outside the facility and on Sunday afternoon, some tried to force their way past security, the Times reports:

They were stopped by a line of correction officers inside the building who drove them back with shoves and, apparently, pepper spray. One woman fled the building, waving her hand in front of her face and coughing.

There were no immediate reports of arrests. Lawyers from the federal defenders’ New York office said that the pepper spray seeped into the visiting room where they were waiting to speak with clients, forcing them to leave the building. Federal prison officials did not respond to questions about whether pepper spray was used.

The trouble at the jail began after a January 27 electrical fire. That left the facility operating on emergency power. While common areas were dimly lit, cells were kept dark and the heating was inadequate as temperatures outside dropped to two degrees.

Lawsuit Alleges ‘Inhumane’ Conditions in Cold Brooklyn Jail