Boerum Hill

In the heat wave, one Brooklyn jail caught fire. The other was ‘boiling-hot.’

July 22, 2019 Noah Goldberg
Brooklyn Detention Complex. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese

Brooklyn’s jails struggled to deal with soaring temperatures this weekend, with 11 people injured in a fire at a federal lockup in Sunset Park and inadequate measures to deal with “boiling-hot” temperatures in the borough’s Boerum Hill facility, according to the FDNY and a local councilmember.

A fire broke out at the Metropolitan Detention Complex Friday afternoon, sending 10 people to the hospital with injuries, according to Deirdre von Dornum of the Federal Defenders, who is in touch with both staff and inmates. Von Dornum said all 10 people hospitalized were staffers; there were no inmate injuries.

Councilmember Brad Lander paid a surprise visit on Sunday afternoon to the Brooklyn Detention Complex in Boerum Hill, a facility that has no air conditioning in any of its housing units, according the Department of Corrections.

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“There is no A/C in any of the housing units, or in most staff areas either (only in the medical clinic & intake areas). It was, no surprise, very hot in the cells and hallways, a little better in the day-rooms,” Lander tweeted Sunday afternoon after his visit to the Brooklyn Detention Complex.

The councilmember said the conditions were part of the reason why the current facility should be closed and rebuilt as part of the mayor’s borough-based jail plan.

Kelsey De Avila, who runs jail services for the Brooklyn Defender Services, said that incarcerated people at the Brooklyn Detention Complex are not allowed out of their cells between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. or during headcounts.

“During that time people don’t have access to showers or fans. They have to request, and it’s usually banging on the doors for water or ice if they need it. A lot of their needs are in the hands of staff,” De Avila said.


Ten new fans arrived at the Brooklyn Detention Complex on Friday, according to Lander, but he said they still had not been assembled when he visited because the jail’s maintenance staff doesn’t work on weekends.

“So [the fans] just sat there. I think that is embarrassing for the city and inexcusable,” De Avila said.

Temperatures rose upward of 100 degrees Fahrenheit Sunday during a three-day heat wave in the city that caused massive power outages in southeastern Brooklyn. A DOC spokesperson told the Brooklyn Eagle that the department was “unaware” of any detainees or staff members experiencing “heat-related health emergencies.”

The fire at the Metropolitan Detention Complex came five months after another fire led to a power outage that left inmates in the cold for weeks at the federal jail. The outage sparked protests outside the lockup, with politicians descending to denounce the conditions.

Von Dornum said Friday’s fire began after a dryer caught fire.

Advocates and lawyers with the Legal Aid Society also called on the Department of Correction to provide air conditioning to people locked up on Rikers Island this weekend during the heatwave.

Update (5:30 p.m.) — This story has been updated with new information from Deirdre von Dornum of the Federal Defenders. 

Update (6 p.m.) — This story has been updated with new information from the Department of Corrections.


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