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Brooklyn federal jail inmates subjected to inhumane conditions, suit claims

Inmates were held in pitch-black cells with insufficient heat, according to the law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP.

Protesters gathered Saturday at the federal detention center

Protesters gathered Saturday at the federal detention center in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. Photo Credit: Todd Maisel

A federal lawsuit filed Monday claims hundreds of inmates at the Brooklyn federal detention center have been exposed to inhumane conditions at the facility.

For the past week inmates were held in pitch-black cells with insufficient heat and had "limited access to showers, hot water, or hot food," according to a statement by the law firm of Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, which filed the suit on behalf of the Federal Defenders of New York.

"Hundreds of men are being locked into darkened cells, subjected to frigid temperatures for days on end, and denied basic necessities including hot water and critical medical care," Sean Hecker, a partner at the firm, said in a statement.

A representative from the Department of Justice said power to the Sunset Park facility was restored at 6:30 p.m. Sunday after a week of problems that began with a fire in the switch gear room last Sunday. They also declined to comment on Monday's court filing. 

"With the heat and hot water operational, and the restoration of electrical power, the facility can now begin to return to regular operations," Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the Department of Justice said in a statement.

Elected officials say they're going to get answers as to how the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center's management allowed the conditions that protesters decried as being unsafe.

Over the weekend, hundreds of protesters, elected officials and families of the detainees rallied outside the jail, calling on the federal government to treat the detainees. Several of the elected officials who visited the jail were relieved that power and heat were restored Sunday night, but expressed frustration with the jail's administrators. 

"What we’re discerning is that this is a chronic problem with that building that may have been highlighted by the power outage," State Sen. Michael Gianaris said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the jail, and a Manhattan federal court judge has called on the Federal Bureau of Prisons to come to a hearing next week and provide details on what happened.

Hornbuckle said Justice will work with the Bureau of Prisons to investigate the incident and "ensure the facility has the power, heat and backup systems in place to prevent the problem from reoccurring."

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