By Viktoria Ristanovic
Nation & World Editor
On Jan. 27, the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center suffered a small electrical fire in a second-floor control room, which caused a week-long power outage in one of its buildings for male inmates, according to NBC News.
This detention center, which mainly houses people accused of crimes who cannot make bail or who are awaiting trial, went a week without heat or electricity during the polar vortex, where temperatures dropped as low as three degrees, reported NBC News.
The Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center houses over 1,600 inmates, some of whom are connected to high-profile drug trafficking and terrorism cases, The New York Times reported.
The power was restored on Feb. 3. at approximately 6:30 p.m by Con Edison and a separate contractor, according to CBS News.
Federal defenders reported that they were flooded with calls from inmates as temperatures began to drop, according to The New York Times.
“‘Our phone was ringing off the hook,’” said Deirdre von Dornum, the lead federal defender in Brooklyn. She stated that inmates gathered around telephones on their floors to report about the conditions by using a dedicated line connected between the jail and the federal defenders offices, The New York Times reported.
According to CNN, David Patton, the director of federal defenders of New York and a representative for the union that represents the facility’s workers reported that the cells became pitch black at night and inmates with medical conditions could not read the instructions on their medications.
According to The New York Times, the heat was either spotty or nonexistent, depending on the floor. There was not much hot water and hot food was not served for several days. One inmate, who kept kosher, said canned sardines were all he received.
These events sparked a powerful protest outside of the jail. According to CBS News, protesters gathered outside the jail following news reports that the inmates had largely been without heat or power for a week and had not been able to communicate with lawyers or loved ones due to curbed visitations.
Attorneys for the Federal Defenders of New York have filed a lawsuit claiming that the detention center violated the constitutional rights of inmates by suspending legal visits for part of the power outage. They have also called for an independent investigation of the issue, according to CNN.
On Feb. 5, Manhattan federal judge, Analisa Torres, made the visit to the jail as part of a fact-finding hearing she held Tuesday on conditions that the inmates had been dealing with, according to The New York Post.
Torres spoke to the neglected inmates and described seeing cells with water leaks peeling paint and mold covered lights. According to a transcript taken of the visit, Torres described seeing in one cell “abundant water damage,” The New York Post reported.
Ezra Spilke, the defense attorney for an inmate who also attended the tour, said that prison officials cranked up the heat and had ample lighting for the tour, but inmates were still not receiving adequate medical care, CNN reported.