Lawsuit Charges ‘Humanitarian Crisis’ at NYC Federal Jail

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Inmates at a federal jail in Brooklyn were subject to inhumane conditions after an electrical fire left many cells cold and dark for a week, charged a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of detainees Monday against the Bureau of Prisons, reports the Wall Street Journal. The lights came back on Sunday night at the Metropolitan Detention Center. Fmilies and civil-rights advocates had protested throughout the weekend to push for better treatment of detainees, faster electrical repairs and family visits, which were canceled after a partial power outage began Jan. 27. Federal Defenders of New York, a nonprofit whose attorneys represent indigent inmates, said in the suit there was a “humanitarian crisis” at the jail. The suit said the facility violated constitutional rights of hundreds of men by denying access to counsel. Lawyers’ visits were suspended during the outage, as well as during the recent federal shutdown.

The lawsuit seeks a special master to investigate inmates’ treatment. Judge LaShann DeArcy Hall ordered the facility to allow regular visits from lawyers. “The Bureau of Prisons has systematically undervalued the importance of the right to counsel,” said Sean Hecker, an attorney representing the Federal Defenders. “Now they’re going to have to answer to the court.” The vast majority of the jail’s 1,600 detainees are awaiting trial. After last month’s fire, inmates said there was little or no heating, limited hot water, and near total lack of access to certain medical services. Inmates reported smelling noxious fumes, and seeing corrections officers wearing masks, but no masks were supplied to detainees, the suit said. The Bureau of Prisons said it would work “to ensure the facility has the power, heat and backup systems in place to prevent the problem from reoccurring.”

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