A Brooklyn jail has been without heat for several days, and the inmates have little they can do but huddle in their beds for warmth, the New York Times is reporting. Several of the inmates have fallen ill.
The Metropolitan Detention Center, located in an industrial section of Brooklyn, houses over a thousand inmates. Some are high-profile narcotics trafficking, gang, or terrorism suspects. Most are regular New Yorkers caught up in the legal system, awaiting trial for crimes major and minor.
One thing all of the inmates there have in common, however, is this: they've all been affected by a failing electrical system that has knocked out the facility's ability to heat the cells, says June Bencebi, a case manager at the jail and a member of the American Federation of Government Employees, the jail's employees' union.
"They just stay huddled up in the bed."Other lawyers, employees, and others who visit the jail have backed up Bencebi's claim. Rachel Bass, a paralegal at the Brooklyn office of the federal defenders, says her phone has been ringing off the hook with phone calls from frantic inmates.
"People are frantic. They're really, really scared. They don't have extra blankets. They don't have access to the commissary to buy an extra sweatshirt."Anthony Sanon, the union's president, says that even the lights have gone out.
"We didn't have heat in the building, we didn't have light. The weather was actually unbearable."Unbearable indeed: at one point during the past week, as the polar vortex ravaged much of the country, the temperature in New York City dropped down to two degrees.
Inside the jail, according to an inmate, the temperature in one housing unit was 34 degrees. Inside the cells, says the inmate, it's considerably colder.
Some of the inmates have fallen sick, complaining of sore throats and sinus infections. There's little that can be done for them.
The jail, for its part, appears to be attempting to downplay the problem. A spokesperson for the warden, in a statement, said that everything is fine.
"All housing units have functional lighting. Heat and hot water has not been impacted. Likewise, inmate meals are not impacted; inmates are receiving regularly scheduled hot meals each day."Inmates dispute the part about hot meals, too, telling their lawyers, caseworkers, families that they've been given canned foods. One inmate, who keeps kosher, said he's been given nothing but canned sardines to eat for days.
Meanwhile, even some New York politicians have taken notice, promising to get to the bottom of the situation. However, as of this writing, the building still appears to be operating without heat.