The nearly weeklong power failure at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn was worse than was portrayed by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, reports the New York Times based on dozens of interviews with inmates and their families, defense lawyers, jail staff, union officials and lawmakers. Hundreds of inmates were locked in their cells after an electrical fire knocked out power. They spent the coldest days of the winter in darkness, largely without heat and hot water. “It’s cold as hell,” inmate Sean Daughtry told his lawyer. He could see his breath in the weak light that slanted through his cell window. Another inmate said that to keep their hands warm, prisoners filled a can with water, heated it with a contraband lighter and passed it around.
When news of how the inmates were treated reached the outside world, Warden Herman Quay denied there was any problem outside of a partial loss of power. “Inmate housing units have been minimally impacted,” his office told the Times. The blackout ended Feb. 3 when power was restored. The Justice Department’s inspector general will investigate the facility’s infrastructure and emergency response. Investigators over the years have suggested that the jail is among the worst in the federal system, determining that prisoners have been beaten, raped or held in inhumane conditions. It houses more than 1,600 inmates, some of them linked to high-profile drug trafficking and terrorism cases. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who toured the jail during the blackout, denounced not only the deplorable conditions, but “an absolute lack of urgency or caring by the leadership, particularly the warden.” See also: Problems at Jail Nothing New, say Families.