Heat issues at Brooklyn jail weren’t caused by fire or power outages: investigators

SUNSET PARK — The fire and partial power outage in January at Brooklyn’s federal jail did not cause the heat failures that left incarcerated people in the cold for weeks, a new report from the Office of the Inspector General found.

The winter heat outages at Sunset Park’s Metropolitan Detention Center led to massive protests outside the facility — with local and national politicians descending on the location to demand answers about the lack of heat. The inspector general’s report, however, found that “long-standing temperature regulation issues” — not fire or power outages — led to temperatures dropping below the desired 68 degrees at the federal jail. 

“We believe that temperature regulation was, and continues to be, the most serious problem affecting the conditions of confinement at MDC Brooklyn,” the report reads. “Due to MDC Brooklyn facilities staff’s imprecise measurement methods in effect during the power outage, we cannot determine how long temperatures in inmate cells were at 64 degrees (the lowest recorded temperature during the power outage) or whether they were higher or lower.”

The electrical fire at MDC began on Jan. 27 and caused a partial power outage. The fire was contained quickly, but the power outages lasted until Feb. 3, according to the inspector general’s report.

The report found that the heating issues existed before the fire, with federal Bureau of Prison records showing that temperatures dropped as low as 59 degrees in one housing unit the week before the blaze. Temperatures remained as low as 64 degrees during the outages — and in some housing units, temperatures soared above 80 degrees.

The report outlined nine recommendations to MDC, including upgrading the heating equipment at the facility so it can maintain appropriate temperatures throughout the jail, as well as distributing cold-weather clothing to the people detained in the building until upgrades are completed. The recommendations also included MDC updating its system for visitation so that “inmates can access legal counsel as soon as is safely possible after a facilities issue.”

ebrooklyn media/Photo by Todd Maisel
Demonstrators stood outside Sunset Park’s huge Metropolitan Detention Center over the weekend, protesting the conditions inside. The jail lost both heat and electricity for a week.

The report also found that, although MDC’s management took steps to keep the facility safe during the outages, two medical issues were not adequately addressed, including for jail inhabitants who used continuous positive airway pressure machines.

“The BOP agrees with the recommendations and looks forward to implementing them,” a spokesperson for the federal Bureau of Prisons told the Brooklyn Eagle.

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