The New York Prison Power Cut Leaves Inmates in the Cold
Earlier last week a power cut occurred at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York causing approximately 1,500 inmates to be without heat, electricity or the necessary medical treatment for some that they required. Temperatures in some of the cells were reported by Nydia Velázquez, the Democratic representative from New York, to have reached as low as 9.5C.
The trouble started when a fire destroyed an electrical panel which was designed to turn on the backup power generator. The Federal Bureau of Prisons, the department in charge of prison facilities in the US, had stated that: "Inmates have hot water for showers and hot water in the sinks in the cell. Essential personal hygiene items and medical services continue to be provided." This is a different report given some families saying medical treatments were not being provided in the state of darkness and relative shutdown that the prison facility was under with no heat or electricity.
Power was restored on Sunday just after a week when the whole incident started meaning that for more than several days more than a thousand people in the prison facility were without the bare necessities. Even more concerning is the protests and advocacy groups reporting and helping pressure the facility and Federal Bureau of Prisons, have claimed that following them delivering hundreds of blankets the authorities within the Metropolitan Detention Center did not give them to the inmates.
There was also a group of protests led by Yvonne Murchison, whose son is incarcerated inside the facility, but this group of protesters were met with pepper spray from guards at the Metropolitan Detention Center. These scenes were particularly bad for anyone to see as people trying to get inmates the bare necessities and make sure their rights were protected, were then set upon with pepper spray. Now legal challenges could also come as the facility could have violated the 6th amendment rights of the prisoners having not allowed them legal visitation from family and their defence counsels.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has stated “I am calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to immediately investigate the circumstances at the Metropolitan Detention Center. New York State stands ready to provide any support necessary to keep the heat, hot water and electricity running at the Center and augment the investigation into those responsible for this mess” Governor Cuomo went on to also say that the prisoners of New York are “human beings too” and “let’s treat them that way”. This incident is a further blow to the whole criminal justice system in the US which has long been criticised for its treatment of minorities, working class people, prisons for profit and harsh application of sentences for minor crimes.
The treatment and lack of understanding by the prison authorities over the matter has arguably made the situation a great deal worse for those who have got family members inside the Metropolitan Detention Center. The stigmatisation of inmates and the fact that they are guilty of crimes doesn’t mean they are any less human to not have heat or electricity in the facilities they are being held in. Some of the inmates inside have not even faced trial and are just being held in custody at the facility. Just like the mother of one inmate, Yvonne Murchison said: “Everybody in there's not guilty, and even if they were, they're human beings."