Photo Gallery Justice Department to probe federal jail in NYC

Justice Department to probe federal jail in NYC

Protesters and family members of inmates hold hands while forming a prayer circle outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019. Some demonstrators protesting the lack of heat and electricity at the federal detention center in New York City attempted to enter the facility Sunday, and witnesses said guards drove them back with pushes, shoves and pepper spray.
A youngster holds a sign as he joins protesters and other family members of inmates held a protest at the Metropolitan Detention Center, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in New York. Prisoners have been without heat, hot water, electricity and sanitation due to an electrical failure since earlier in the week, including during the recent frigid cold snap.
Yandy Smith is helped by others after she was sprayed with pepper spray after she and others stormed the main entrance to the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison where prisoners have gone without heat, hot water and flushing toilets due to an electrical outage, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in the Brooklyn borough of New York.

Authorities stand guard on the front steps of the Metropolitan Detention Center after dozens of family members, protesters and activists stormed the main entrance, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, as prisoners have been without heat, hot water, electricity and proper sanitation due to an electrical failure since earlier in the week.
Yandy Smith, center, gasps for air as people come to her aid after she was sprayed with pepper spray and thrown to the ground after storming the main entrance of the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison with all security levels, during a demonstration with protesters and prisoners’ family members, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in New York.
Yandy Smith, second from left, is helped by others after she joined protesters and prisoners’ family members in storming the main entrance of the Metropolitan Detention Center, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, in protest of conditions at the facility. The federal prison has been without heat, hot water, electricity and sanitation since mid-week, including throughout the recent frigid weather.
Catana Yehudah, of the Bronx, uses a megaphone to speak to prisoners from outside the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison of all security levels, where prisoners haven’t had access to heat, hot water, electricity and sanitary conditions since earlier in the week, including throughout the recent frigid weather, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in the Brooklyn borough of New York.
Reina Benn, 3, and her twin sister Chiara hold signs as their father, Michael Benn, second from right, keeps an eye on them as they joined other protesters and prisoners’ family members at a vigil outside the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison housing all security levels, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The prison has been without heat, hot water, electricity and sanitation since an electrical failure earlier in the week.
Veronica Matus, 42, an activist from Queens, left, embraces Catana Yehudah, 50, of the Bronx, as Yehuda speaks into the microphone Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in New York, at prisoners listening from inside their cells at the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal facility of all security levels, where prisoners have been without heat, hot water, electricity and proper sanitation due to an electrical failure since earlier in the week. Yehuda’s brother Jason Smith, 40, is serving an 18-month sentence in the prison for gun possession.
Protesters and family members of prisoners wipe their eyes and cry after they and others stormed the main entrance of the Metropolitan Detention Center, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in New York, where prisoners haven’t had access to heat, hot water, electricity or sanitary conditions since earlier in the week, including throughout the recent frigid cold snap.
A man helps Yandy Smith after she received pepper spray when she and others stormed the main entrance to the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal facility where protesters say prisoners have gone without heat, hot water and flushing toilets due to an electrical outage, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in New York.
U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, far right, stands beside Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, uses a megaphone to amplify her voice so prisoners can hear her, as the pair joined family members, protesters, and activists holding a vigil outside the Metropolitan Detention Center, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in New York.

The U.S. Department of Justice said Sunday it will work with the Bureau of Prisons to examine what happened at a federal detention center in Brooklyn that had lost heat and electricity last week and to ensure that it has a backup system in place.

“In the coming days, the Department will work with the Bureau of Prisons to examine what happened and ensure the facility has the power, heat and backup systems in place to prevent the problem from re-occurring,” said Wyn Hornbuckle, deputy director of public affairs for the Justice Department.

Electrical power was finally restored at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Hornbuckle said.

Protesters have gathered outside the facility in recent days following news reports that those housed there have largely been without heat or power for the past week and also haven’t been able to communicate with lawyers or loved ones. Outdoor temperatures have been well below freezing on some recent days, though Sunday was warmer.

“With the heat and hot water operational, and the restoration of electrical power, the facility can now begin to return to regular operations,” Hornbuckle said.

Earlier Sunday, some demonstrators attempted to enter the facility, and guards drove them back with pushes and shoves. Witnesses said they also used pepper spray. A reporter and photographer for The Associated Press were at the facility when a woman, whose son is being detained, tried to get into the jail.

On Sunday, an inmate was able to call through the window of his cell, which faces out to the street, to his mother below. The woman, Yvonne Murchison, was crying and upset and tried to get into the facility, where visits have been stopped.

“I’d trade places with him any day, that’s my child,” she said.

She was followed by activists and media into the lobby, where visitors have to pass through metal detectors.

Witnesses said officers used significant force to push the people out, with some of those attempting to come in being pushed to the ground. The AP photographer felt some type of spray, and began to have trouble breathing. Those affected were seen washing out their eyes with water or milk.

The Bureau of Prisons has acknowledged that the jail “experienced a partial power outage due to a fire in the switch gear room.” The bureau had said a new electrical panel was being installed by an outside contractor. The agency insisted that inmates had hot water for showers and sinks, and were getting medications as needed.

The jail administration did not return an email seeking comment on the clash Sunday.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for an investigation of the circumstances of the loss of heat and electricity by the federal Department of Justice, saying the situation was “a violation of human decency and dignity” and also raises “questions of potential violations of law.”

The Democrat said he wanted answers, and those responsible held accountable.

“Prisoners in New York are human beings,” Cuomo said. “Let’s treat them that way.”

The New York Civil Liberties Union released a statement Sunday calling on the Bureau of Prisons to “ensure that no detainee be subjected to retaliation for peacefully protesting.”

“Today’s confrontation between the Bureau of Prisons and family members of people jailed at MDC highlights the desperate need to address the dangerous, inhumane and unlawful conditions inside the facility,” NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman said.

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