U.S.

Brooklyn Jail Has Power Restored After Inmates Go Days Without Lights and Heat Amid Polar Vortex

After days of protest and growing outrage, inmates housed at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, have had power restored. 

The federal jail confirmed the news in a statement late Sunday night, with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeting that “a federal official confirmed to me the power is back on at MDC. Make no mistake: this took people power. Thank you to the families, activists and officials who fought for the dignity of people inside," de Blasio wrote.

While the jail's statement said that staff was working "to restore the facility to normal operations," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the jail and the circumstances that led to the power outage.

"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. "Prisoners in New York are human beings. Let's treat them that way."

The trouble began on January 27, when an electrical panel caught fire at the jail, cutting off power to part of the detention center. According to facility workers, the jail then shifted to emergency power rather than generator power, as the generator switch had melted in the fire.

According to union leaders, the heating issues were unrelated to the power outage, but occurred when the boilers that draw heat upward in the building froze amid the polar vortex that gripped much of the northern United States and plunged New York into single-digit temperatures, The New York Times reported.

A spokesperson for MDC's warden, identified only as V. Logan, denied inmate allegations that they lacked hot water, adequate heat and hot meals.

“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," Logan said in an email to The Times.

On Saturday night, de Blasio instructed New York City Emergency Management to deliver blankets, hand warmers and generators “whether they like it or not," The Washington Post reported.

MDC houses more than 1,600 detainees, many of whom spent the days without power pounding on the bars and covering windows to convey a message to protesters gathered outside. Some of the protesters remained overnight, shivering in the cold in solidarity with the inmates. Others returned in the day, holding signs of support or shouting messages in the hope that a loved one or a friend inside might hear them.

While the power has been restored, local Democratic representatives who toured the jail on Saturday continued to criticize the conditions inside, including Representative Nydia Velázquez, who tweeted: "We were able today to enter cells to feel air and water temperatures and speak with detainees. One guard reported needing to wear fleece over a down vest to stay warm in overnight hours. Will continue to push for action."

On Sunday, Representative Jerrold Nadler visited the prison again and tweeted that conditions had improved.

“Conditions are much better. It’s much warmer,” Nadler said. “And the electrical power will be back tomorrow morning. We will remain vigilant to insure that the health and safety of the inmates and correction officers are taken care of properly.”

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