The Slatest

Days of Protest Over Unheated Brooklyn Prison End With Restored Power

Protesters attend a rally at Metropolitan Detention Center demanding that heat be restored for the inmates.
Protesters attend a rally at Metropolitan Detention Center demanding that heat be restored for the inmates, in Brooklyn, New York City, on Saturday.
Go Nakamura/Reuters

Full power has been restored to a Brooklyn, New York, detention center after days of protests over the neglect of prisoners who were exposed to frigid temperatures during last week’s polar vortex, according to statements from the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Justice.

For days, crowds gathered outside Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center and activists demanded that the prisoners be moved and the jail investigated. According to the Washington Post, some protesters even remained overnight in solidarity with prisoners, at a time when the low temperatures reached down into the single digits. Inside the prison, inmates banged on their cell windows. According to ABC 7, Sunday’s protesters at one point clashed with correction officers as they tried to rush into the entrance, and corrections officers forcefully pushed them out.

According to the New York Times, which first reported on the outage, the prison’s troubles began on Jan. 5, when it lost power. The heating began to falter the week of Jan. 20 and continued through last week, when the cold became dangerous. The more than 1,600 inmates—a combination of high-profile criminals and a more low-risk mix of inmates with medical conditions and New Yorkers awaiting trial, according to the Times—huddled in their beds in the dark.

The Bureau of Prisons, which runs the facility, has denied that the heat had been so limited and said in the Sunday statement that inmates had had hot showers. Several lawmakers who toured the jail Saturday disagreed, having found temperatures as low as 49 degrees in the facility, and criticized the jail’s officials for not treating the situation with the urgency that it required. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Saturday night that the city’s emergency-management agency had delivered generators, blankets, and hand warmers to the prison.

The power was restored Sunday night, according to the DOJ statement, and heat and water were back to normal.

A DOJ spokesman also said in a statement that the department would work with the Bureau of Prisons to investigate what happened and implement backup measures to prevent any future power outages.