Boerum Hill

Amid high temps, protesters call for cold water, cold showers and more fans at Brooklyn jail

July 31, 2019 Noah Goldberg
Protesters gathered outside the Brooklyn Detention Complex July 31, 2019, denouncing conditions inside the jail. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg
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A mini heat wave brought protesters to a Brooklyn jail Wednesday morning to denounce the steamy conditions inside the lockup documented last week by a local councilmember.

As Monday and Tuesday’s temperatures topped 90 degrees, advocates for incarcerated people gathered and demanded better conditions — including cold showers and more fans — for incarcerated people inside the Brooklyn Detention Complex in Boerum Hill.

“We’re calling on the mayor, we’re calling on DOC to follow the minimum standard and provide incarcerated people — many of whom have not been found guilty, they’re waiting for their day in court — calling on them to provide humane conditions,” said Darren Mack, an organizer with Just Leadership USA, a group dedicated to decreasing the country’s incarcerated population to half its current number by 2030.

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Councilmember Brad Lander toured the Brooklyn jail on July 21 with the Board of Corrections. He noted that none of the housing units in the building had air conditioning and that 10 fans delivered to the building on a Friday had not been set up.

“We take the health and safety of those in our custody seriously. Department policy requires two fans. We have met that requirement since the beginning of the first heat wave two weeks ago. We have been installing extra fans and power outlets in an ongoing effort to make staff and persons in custody as comfortable as possible,” said Jason Kersten, press secretary for the Department of Correction.

DOC distributed extra fans to housing areas for the heatwave, according to a spokesperson, but some of the housing areas at the Brooklyn Detention Complex did not have outlets to operate the additional fans. All housing units at the Brooklyn Detention Complex have at least two fans operating during heatwaves, a DOC spokesperson said.

DOC’s heat protocol calls for incarcerated individuals to “have access to ice, cold water and multiple cool showers between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m.,” according to a spokesperson for the department.

Lander said that despite the fact that jail showers should run cold water during a heat wave, a shower his team tested was running scalding-hot water when they visited. The water jugs in common spaces were filled with warm water, he added.

“I have to be honest, it was worse than I imagined when going in,” Lander said Wednesday outside the jail.

Lander said that on most of the floors he visited, incarcerated people were allowed to be in common spaces where two fans were running, but one housing unit was on lockdown because of a slashing with people locked in their cells for 24 hours during, “the very hottest hours of that particular heatwave,” he said.

“There are no excuses for human rights abuses,” protesters chanted outside the facility.

Brad Lander speaks with protesters outside the Brooklyn Detention Complex July 31, 2019. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg
Brad Lander speaks with protesters outside the Brooklyn Detention Complex July 31, 2019. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg

While Lander said it was important to completely restructure the criminal justice system, he also noted that small changes could quickly improve conditions for New York City’s incarcerated population. He called on DOC to make sure that every floor at the complex has ice water in the day room, cold showers and “dozens” more fans to be delivered to the facility. He also called for people who are sensitive to heat because of diseases to be moved into the jail’s infirmary, one of the only rooms in the building with air conditioning.

The Brooklyn Detention Complex, built in the 1950s, could be demolished within the next 10 years — as the city’s plan to close Rikers and build four new borough-based jails would include rebuilding of the Boerum Hill facility. The new facility would have air conditioning in the housing units, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice confirmed.

Update (4:30 p.m.): This article has been updated to include comment from the Department of Correction.

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