New York

Several NY-10 primary candidates demand reform at Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn

Brooklyn’s troubled federal jail should open its doors to unannounced inspections by elected officials and judges, five Democratic primary candidates running in New York’s hotly contested 10th congressional district wrote federal officials Monday.

The letter, signed by Daniel Goldman, Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou (D-Manhattan), Councilwoman Carlina Rivera (D-Manhattan), and Jo Anne Simon, urges a string of reforms to “address the deplorable and inhumane conditions” at the Metropolitan Detention Center.

Defense lawyers and inmates have for years been reporting atrocious conditions at the Sunset Park jail, which has housed high-profile prisoners including R. Kelly and Ghislaine Maxwell.

Notably, a week-long blackout in January 2019 left all 1,700 detainees in the dark and freezing cold, with no heat and no access to their lawyers or loved ones. At least four inmates have died in custody since 2020.

Last October, defense lawyers contended their clients frequently had no water or hot food, and that staff levels were so low one inmate was told he’d have to figure out the correct dose for his psychiatric medication on his own.

The politicians joined the Federal Defenders, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Comptroller Brad Lander in calling on the federal government to take several immediate reforms, including allowing unannounced visits at MDC. The pols plan a press conference outside the jail Tuesday morning.

In their letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Bureau of Prisons director Colette Peters, the candidates called on the federal government to increase medical staffing to meet the needs of all the detainees and make sure everyone housed there gets “healthy, sufficient food” daily.

“It should be a model institution. Instead, systematic dysfunction at MDC-Brooklyn has resulted in years of unacceptable conditions of confinement for detainees, denial of basic necessities, and inadequate access to counsel and legal materials,” the letter stated. “This humanitarian crisis must be addressed now.”

Every staff member should be screened for drugs, weapons and cell phones, “no exceptions,” and Peters must hold quarterly meetings to address the conditions in the jail, the politicians wrote.

Last October, the Department of Justice shut down the Metropolitan Correctional Center — the federal jail in Manhatttan where Jeffrey Epstein killed himself — then transferred hundreds of inmates and correction officers to the Brooklyn jail.

The jail remains at the center of a legal battle between the Federal Defenders and the Bureau of Prisons, with defense lawyers stating they’re routinely denied access to their clients.

Last month, a group of defense lawyers were trapped in the jail for 2½ hours during a lockdown, after correctional officers there refused to let them leave or contact their colleagues or relatives.

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