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DOJ Asks Watchdog To Investigate Heat And Power Failures At Brooklyn Jail

An NYPD vehicle sits outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn on Monday. Inmates inside suffered days of bitter cold without heat in the facility.
Drew Angerer
Getty Images
An NYPD vehicle sits outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn on Monday. Inmates inside suffered days of bitter cold without heat in the facility.

The Department of Justice is asking its internal inspector to investigate power and heating outages that left many inmates at a Brooklyn jail in cold and dark cells as temperatures fell below freezing in New York City.

The announcement came in response to a request for an investigation by Democratic Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Nydia Velázquez of New York and other Democrats.

In a statement Wednesday, the DOJ asked its watchdog, the Office of the Inspector General, to "undertake a review" and determine whether the Bureau of Prisons "responded appropriately" to the heat and power failures at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

The Bureau of Prisons is part of the Justice Department. The BOP "will also conduct a thorough investigation of the infrastructure at the facility and review the emergency response and contingency planning for this type of incident," the DOJ said in a press release shared on Twitter by Rep. Nadler.

Many of the nearly 1,700 inmates in the federal facility were on lockdown in cells without electricity or heat for several days.

Reports of the conditions triggered massive protests outside the jail and tours by elected officials, including Nadler, who called the conditions inside the jail "inhuman."

A fire knocked out lights in parts of the jail on Jan. 27, but problems with heating had been occurring since mid-January, according to The New York Times' account of a court hearing Tuesday.

Judge Analisa Torres of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York toured the facility on Tuesday following the hearing. In a transcript of the visit, inmates also described not receiving medical attention after requesting it, including one inmate who described "spitting blood."

The nonprofit group Federal Defenders of New York sued the Bureau of Prisons and the jail's warden, Herman Quay, on Monday, alleging "there is a humanitarian crisis taking place" at the MDC.

City officials said power was restored at the jail by Sunday. Most of the people detained are awaiting trail and have not been convicted of a crime, according to the Times.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.
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