An NYC federal jail doesn’t have heat or electricity, prompting protests

SHARE An NYC federal jail doesn’t have heat or electricity, prompting protests
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Corrections officers restrain a woman, center, who was among dozens of family members of prisoners and protesters objecting to conditions in the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019. | AP Photo/Kathy Willens

NEW YORK — Some demonstrators protesting the lack of heat and electricity at a federal detention center in New York City attempted to enter the facility Sunday, and witnesses said guards drove them back with pushes, shoves and pepper spray.

A reporter and photographer for The Associated Press were at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn when a woman, whose son is being detained, tried to get into the jail.

Protesters have gathered outside the facility in recent days following news reports that those housed there have largely been without heat or power for the past week and also haven’t been able to communicate with lawyers or loved ones. Outdoor temperatures have been well below freezing on some recent days, though Sunday was warmer.

On Sunday, an inmate was able to call through the window of his cell, which faces out to the street, to his mother below. The woman, Yvonne Murchison, was crying and upset and tried to get into the facility, where visits have been stopped.

“I’d trade places with him any day, that’s my child,” she said.

She was followed by activists and media into the lobby, where visitors have to pass through metal detectors.

Cahana Yehudah, foreground, of the Bronx, cries as she hears the response of prisoners held inside the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal facility with all security levels, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The prison has be

Cahana Yehudah, foreground, of the Bronx, cries as she hears the response of prisoners held inside the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal facility with all security levels, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The prison has been without heat, hot water, electricity and good sanitation for several days, including during the recent frigid weather. Yehudah has a brother who is serving 18 months at the prison for gun possession. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Witnesses said officers used significant force to push the people out, with some of those attempting to come in being pushed to the ground. The AP photographer felt some type of spray, and began to have trouble breathing. Those affected were seen washing out their eyes with water or milk.

The Bureau of Prisons has acknowledged that the jail “experienced a partial power outage due to a fire in the switch gear room.” The bureau had said a new electrical panel is being installed by an outside contractor and work is expected to be completed by Monday. The agency insisted that inmates had hot water for showers and sinks, and were getting medications as needed.

The jail administration did not return an email seeking comment on the clash Sunday.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for an investigation of the circumstances of the loss of heat and electricity by the federal Department of Justice, saying the situation was “a violation of human decency and dignity” and also raises “questions of potential violations of law.”

The Democrat said he wanted answers, and those responsible held accountable.

“Prisoners in New York are human beings,” Cuomo said. “Let’s treat them that way.”

Prisoners call out to protesters and family members gathers outside the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison where prisoners have been without heat, hot water, electricity and proper sanitation due to an electrical failure since earlier in the

Prisoners call out to protesters and family members gathers outside the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison where prisoners have been without heat, hot water, electricity and proper sanitation due to an electrical failure since earlier in the week, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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