“Freezing” inmates at a New York City prison have spent a week with limited heat or electricity during the polar vortex which brought temperatures down to -17C (2F).
Nearly 1,000 prisoners at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn have been stuck in their cells without heating, light or access to computers to communicate with their lawyers and families.
They have been banging on the walls and flashing torches from windows in a call for help after the power went down following an electrical fire last weekend.
As the polar vortex hit the US this week temperatures in the city plunged to -17C (2F) on Thursday, with one inmate saying a corrections officer measured 1C (34F) in the prison’s housing unit.
Since the outage all recreational activities and visits from lawyers and family members have been cancelled, the prison’s website said.
As access to computers has been forbidden, prisoners have also been unable to request prescription medicine.
The prisoners, some of whom are awaiting trial or sentencing on federal crimes, are “very, very angry and complaining”, Democrat congresswoman Nydia Velazquez said.
She said officials are not taking the situation seriously enough and measured temperatures in the jail of 9C (49F) in some cells.
Ms Velazquez, whose constituency includes the prison, was refused access to inmates on Friday but was allowed to see them after returning on Saturday with fellow Congress members Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, as well as city and state politicians.
“They all complained about the cold,” Ms Velazquez said of the prisoners.
We were able today to enter cells to feel air and water temperatures and speak with detainees. One guard reported needing to wear fleece over a down vest to stay warm in overnight hours.
Will continue to push for action.
— Rep. Nydia Velazquez (@NydiaVelazquez) February 2, 2019
Tish James, New York’s attorney general, tweeted: “It is unacceptable, illegal, and inhumane to detain people without amenities, access to counsel, or medical care. … I demand answers.”
June Bencebi, a case manager at the jail from the American Federation of Government Employees union, added: “They just stay huddled up in the bed.”
Rhonda Barnwell, who works in the prison’s medical centre, said parts of the jail were working on a generator.
“They’re just waiting for a disaster to happen,” she told the New York Daily News.
“There’s only heat in the afternoons since we’ve been complaining today. It’s been very dangerous.”
Protesters gathered outside the prison on Saturday to encourage officials to rectify the problem.
.@nycemergencymgt just delivered generators, blankets and hand warmers to the Metropolitan Detention Center. The people inside have a right to dignity and safety and we won’t stand by while the Federal Bureau of Prisons fails them. NYC stands ready to do all we can to help. pic.twitter.com/5HGA3Co0G4
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) February 3, 2019
On Saturday night New York mayor Bill de Blasio delivered generators, blankets and hand warmers to the jail, but it has not been confirmed whether the inmates have received them.
Many New Yorkers complained that Mr de Blasio was doing more for the prisoners than nearly 5,000 public housing tenants in The Bronx where apartment buildings have been without heating for nearly two weeks.
The Bureau of Prisons said the jail “experienced a partial power outage due to a fire in the switch gear room” and a new electrical panel is being installed by an outside contractor, to be completed by Monday.
It said air temperatures in cells “were within acceptable ranges”.