New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Sunday called for a Justice Department investigation into the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where frigid conditions reportedly have left inmates begging for help.
“Disturbing reports have surfaced that the federal government left more than a thousand prisoners without heat, hot water or electricity during subzero temperatures,” Cuomo said in a statement. “No one in New York should live in fear that they may freeze to death alone in the dark.”
Videos surfaced Friday showing inmates at the federal detention center flashing reading lights and banging on the cells’ walls and windows, which line the perimeter of the facility.
“Inmates are banging on S-O-S on windows to get our attention. This is surreal,” tweeted New York City Councilman Justin Brannan, who also filmed the scene.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), who visited the jail Friday, said some of the heat and hot water had been restored but that it was not at full capacity. Protesters rallied Saturday in front of the federal detention center, demanding adequate conditions be restored.
Cuomo on Sunday demanded that those responsible be held accountable and that changes be made to ensure such conditions wouldn’t be felt again.
“These allegations are a violation of human decency and dignity,” the governor said in his statement. “They also raise questions of potential violations of law. Government owes a fundamental responsibility to serve all people and the Federal Bureau of Prisons needs to live up to that responsibility.”
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has acknowledged a partial power outage began on Jan. 27 but denied that it had an effect on heating at the facility. The bureau said Sunday in a statement that a new electrical panel had been installed the day before.
“Heating to the building is provided via a boiler, which was not affected by the power outage,” the statement said. “Inmates have hot water for showers and hot water in the sinks in the cell. Essential personal hygiene items and medical services continue to be provided.”
The agency noted that inmate telephones, computers and televisions were not working due to the electrical issue. It said prisoners still had access to public defender phones and medical care.
MDC Brooklyn, which houses more than 1,600 male and female prisoners, is situated in the northwestern part of the borough, just north of the Sunset Park neighborhood.
The Justice Department will work with the Bureau of Prisons “to examine what happened and ensure [MDC Brooklyn] has the power, heat and backup systems in place to prevent the problem from reoccurring,” a spokesman for the department said in a statement Monday.
This story has been updated with the Justice Department’s statement.