Inmates at a federal lockup in New York have been banging on the walls and windows of their cells to get attention from people on the street as they suffer below-freezing temperatures in their cells.
New York City Councilman Justin Brannan filmed the scene on Friday at the waterfront Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where more than 1,600 inmates are imprisoned.
“Inmates are banging on S-O-S on windows to get our attention. This is surreal,” Brannan tweeted.
Later, he added: “One of the most harrowing sounds I’ve ever known.”
The Federal Bureau of Prisons said that it is working to restore power, which has been out since last weekend, but it won’t be back on until Monday, according to CBS News.
The administrative detention center had a partial power outage last Saturday as temperatures dropped as low as 2 degrees this week, causing several inmates to call federal defender offices, according to The New York Times.
Without limited power at the jail, defense lawyers claim, inmates have been complaining of freezing cells, no hot water and no lights.
“In the past hour, I have gotten 11 calls,” paralegal Rachel Bass of Federal Defenders in Brooklyn told the Times on Thursday. “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.”
The Metropolitan Detention Center has suspended visits to the facility until further notice, according to a message on its website.
Dierdre con Dornum, the lead federal defender in Brooklyn, told The Associated Press on Friday that the inmates were currently on lockdown with no access to the computers they use to contact family and attorneys and to request prescription medications.
“My understanding is they’re fully locked down in their dark cells,” Dornum said.
A spokeswoman for Herman Quay, the jail’s warden, confirmed to the Times that there was a partial power outage but denied that the inmates housed there were affected, according to the Times.
The Bureau of Prisons, which also denied that cells were lacking heat and hot water, told the Times that the electrical failure was due to emergencies with Con Edison, though the utility denied any issues.
“It’s an internal problem, and their electricians will have to fix it,” Robert McGee, a Con Edison spokesman, told the paper.
In response to the Times’ story, Rep. Nydia Velazquez of New York said Friday that she was “alarmed by reports that inmates at the MDC are enduring these conditions, especially given the freezing weather this week.”
Later Friday, after a visit to the jail, the congresswoman said that some of the heat and hot water was restored but that it was not at full capacity.
“Still cold & dark,” she tweeted. “As we weren’t allowed to speak with inmates, unclear if blankets are being distributed.”
On Thursday, federal defenders filed an emergency motion to remove Dino Sanchez, an inmate from Brooklyn who was suffering from asthma in the severe cold, according to the Times.
“The population was kept in their cells for 23 hours,” Benjamin Yaster, a federal defender representing Sanchez, told the paper. “He’s stuck in these cold conditions in a short-sleeved jumpsuit and a short-sleeved undershirt.”
Yaster added: “He feels short of breath and is wheezing and coughing more than he normally would.”
Councilman Brannan demanded answers from jail officials after Velazquez’s visit.
“These conditions are dangerous & inhumane for workers & inmates,” he tweeted. “Families on outside especially need answers.”
They story has been updated with a statement from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misidentified Herman Quay as a spokeswoman for the warden of the Metropolitan Detention Center. Quay is the warden.