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Freezing conditions at Brooklyn jail during season’s first cold snap

November 14, 2019 Noah Goldberg
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As temperatures dipped below freezing last Friday, incarcerated people on some floors at Brooklyn’s Downtown jail were left in the cold, moving around the lockup in their blankets, public defenders told the Brooklyn Eagle on Thursday.

A prisoner at the city jail told Brooklyn Defender Services that there were open windows on some floors of the building on the evening of Nov. 8 — the same day the city issued a freeze warning due to cold temperatures.

“He was saying that he was shivering,” said Kelsey De Avila, who runs jail services for the public defense organization and has met with numerous detainees over the past week. “People were walking around in blankets to keep warm.” The Department of Correction had provided the man with sweatpants, but “it just wasn’t enough,” said De Avila.

Temperature issues at the Brooklyn Detention Complex arose in the summer as well, when Councilmember Brad Lander visited the jail and described the complex, lacking air conditioning, as “boiling-hot.”

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Last winter, massive protests erupted outside the borough’s federal jail, the Metropolitan Detention Center, over cold temperatures inside the lockup.

Demonstrators stood outside Sunset Park’s huge Metropolitan Detention Center in February. The jail lost both heat and electricity for a week. Eagle photo by Todd Maisel

Other incarcerated people De Avila spoke with described different conditions on other floors.

“A different person on Wednesday, they said their floor — on a higher floor — they said it was very hot,” she said.

De Avila said she met again on Wednesday evening with the person who described the freezing conditions on Friday. Now, his floor is uncomfortably hot, she said. “He woke up sweating because of the heat.”

Brooklyn Defender Services wrote a letter to DOC on Nov. 8, demanding adequate heating at the facility as well as warm clothing for detainees being transported to court for court dates.

Still six weeks before the official beginning of winter, our office has already started receiving complaints about inhumane temperatures in their units and in common spaces,” the letter reads. “In addition, our office has received several reports of people coming to and from court without warm clothing.”

DOC plans on responding the letter, though they have not yet.

“The Department takes all complaints about conditions inside our facilities seriously and we are looking into these claims. People in our custody deserve to live in humane conditions,” said Peter Thorne, the deputy commissioner for public information for DOC.

DOC did not receive any heat-related complaints during the Nov. 8 weekend, a department spokesperson said. They also said they had not recorded any temperature below 68.3 degrees Fahrenheit in any housing area since last Friday.

“From what we heard it just doesn’t seem to be consistent. That seems to be the general theme,” said De Avila. “It’s either freezing or everyones burning up.”

Update (10:05 a.m.): This article has been updated to include a response from the Department of Correction. 

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