Schumer asks feds to hire priest for Brooklyn jail
Senator wants chaplain in time for Christmas
The Metropolitan Detention Center does not have a full-time priest on duty, according to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, who is pushing the Federal Bureau of Prisons to assign a Catholic clergy member to the Sunset Park jail.
Schumer (D-New York) said he would like to see the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) put a priest in place by Christmas. He has written a letter to BOP Director Mark Inch, citing the need for a priest to lead religious services and assist inmates in need of support.
The Metropolitan Detention Center, located at 80 29th St., has used a rotating series of chaplains from the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn to provide coverage for Ash Wednesday, Easter and other Catholic holidays.
But the facility has been without the services of a permanent Catholic chaplain since February, according to Schumer, who charged that BOP is “dragging its feet” on hiring a new priest.
The Sunset Park jail has a large number of Catholics along its inmate population, Schumer said.
“With Christmas fast approaching, and the Brooklyn facility lacking a chaplain for many months, the federal Bureau of Prisons should stop delaying and immediately hire a full-time permanent Catholic Chaplain at this facility. It is the right thing to do at the right time,” Schumer said in a statement.
The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn is willing to provide the manpower, but BOP has been slow to act, citing a hiring freeze, Schumer said.
The lack of a Roman Catholic Chaplain at the Metropolitan Detention Center has become a pressing issue to inmates and their families, he added.
“The holiday season is approaching, and this is a time of extreme importance for those who celebrate Christmas. We must ensure that the inmates can properly worship if they choose to do so. The gap in maximally effective religious coverage at this facility is unfortunate and undermines the highest level of support that helps maintain a positive and safe environment for inmates and guards,” Schumer wrote in his letter.
“It is my understanding that the Metropolitan Detention Center was able to cover services for Ash Wednesday and Holy Week services, and was later able to establish a monthly rotation with four priests from the Diocese of Brooklyn, but this is a patchwork solution. A much better solution is to promptly hire a Catholic chaplain to directly serve the facility,” he wrote.
A chaplain plays an important role in a jail, according to the website www.pastporalcounseling.org, which reported that a priest does more than council inmates and lead religious services.
Priest often become confidants to inmates and help them on the road to rehabilitation, according to the website.
In addition, many detention centers around the country have Bible study groups for inmates that are led by a chaplain.
“Even more, statistics show faith leaders help provide a safer environment for the entire criminal justice system and to those seeking their support,” Schumer said.
Opened in the early 1990s, the Metropolitan Detention Center was designed to hold inmates awaiting arraignment or sentencing in Brooklyn Federal Court. The jail can hold up to 1,000 inmates. Over the years, the inmates have run the gamut from terror bombing suspects to people arrested for committing white collar crimes.
Martin Shkreli, the notorious former pharmaceutical company owner convicted of securities fraud, is currently being held there while he waits to be sentenced in Brooklyn Federal Court in January.
Shkreli, 34, came under fire in an unrelated matter two years ago. As the owner of Turing Pharmaceuticals, he was heavily criticized when he raised the price of Daraprim, a drug for HIV-AIDS patients, from $13.50 a pill to an astronomical $750 a pill.
BOP officials did not respond to the Brooklyn Eagle’s request for comment on Schumer’s call for a priest to be permanently assigned to the Metropolitan Detention Center.