At the present moment, approximately 1,600 people are being held captive in freezing temperatures at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, NY. As temperatures in New York have gone down as low as 2°F, those detained inside report that internal temperatures are not much better, with prisoners using extra socks as gloves and wrapping themselves in whatever material they can to keep warm. While spokespersons for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) acknowledges a “partial power outage” may be responsible, they simultaneously have denied that heat nor hot water has been an issue. However, in addition to the the allegations of prisoners, families and defense attorneys, even the officers union and employees at the prison acknowledge the existence, prevalence and severity of the problem.
Extreme temperatures are nothing new in jails and prisons, nor are they ever acknowledged by state actors when accounts of these temperatures surface. As reported over the summer, prisoners in Massachusetts and around the country experienced severe heat inside MA state prisons, with temperatures going up to 115°F inside. In August 2018, the Department of Correction in Massachusetts quietly installed thousands of dollars of fans and ventilation equipment after a surprise inspection of three facilities was conducted by the Department of Public Health in response to the aforementioned heat crisis. Despite the surprise visits, the Department of Public Health claimed that it lacked jurisdiction over the issue, as no clear temperature limit is defined on law books.
In 2017, a viral video surfaced of prisoners screaming for help during a heat wave similar to the one described in Massachusetts. Despite the thousands of views by YouTube visitors worldwide, the State refused to acknowledge the existence of the problem. In Texas, a court settlement between the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDJC) and the family of a prisoner who died from heat stroke has led to the slow implementation of air conditioning systems within the TDCJ to prevent further deaths. However, despite the installation of cooling units, the TDCJ has set the maximum temperature for 88°F, well above any guidelines set for any other air-conditioned building licensed to house human beings. Daniel Holt of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School writes in 2015:
“Within a week of his transfer the indoor heat index hit 150°F and McCollum died of heatstroke. Earlier in the week, Douglas Hudson, 62, had died from heatstroke after three days at the Joe F. Gurney Transfer Facility in Anderson County, Texas. Two weeks later, Kenneth James, 52, also died from heatstroke three days after arriving at Gurney. A year later, Rodney Adams, 45, died from heatstroke the day after he arrived at Gurney.”
The use of extreme cold however has an even more insidious history within the carceral state. While the state murder of transgender woman Roxana Hernández sparked a public outcry, the state continues to use the “ice box” cells that led to the pneumonia that killed her within 5 days. Prisoners in US military detention have been forced to stand, kneel or squat in front of air conditioners at the highest possible setting while soaking wet for days at a time. Use of extreme cold are such a long tradition in detention centers and jails that they are typically referred to in internal documentation as simply “cold cells”.
Prisoners in so-called “Health Services Units”– units that ostensibly exist to keep prisoners at risk of self-injury from attempting suicide– remain at increased risk. In these units, prisoners are typically forbidden from wearing clothing and often have no sheets nor blankets. Minimized movement by physical restraints (nicknamed “turtle suits” by prisoners who have had to endure them) increases the risk of both overheating and freezing, as it disallows movement that might allow prisoners to move their muscles and maintain adequate blood flow.
Please find resources below/on the sidebar for how to participate in a national call-in campaign to end this needless suffering on the part of our loved ones inside MDC Brooklyn. We stand with our comrades and demand that this ends now. Lives depend on it.
Phone zap numbers:
Warden Quay & Associate Warden Ortiz at 718-840-4200
US Marshall Assistant Chief McFarland at 718-840-4200 ext. 41740
Federal Bureau of Prisons:
718.840.4200 x4740 for Nicole McFarland
718.840.4740 for Adam Johnson
[ numbers per twitter sources. contact firstname.lastname@example.org for any inaccuracies ]
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