BOERUM HILL – Council Member Brad Lander joined the NYC Board of Correction for a surprise inspection of the Brooklyn House of Detention (275 Atlantic Avenue) on Sunday afternoon and found 450 detainees awaiting trial and staff members enduring “cruelly hot conditions” on a day when temperatures topped 98 degrees.
“Not enough fans. Not enough ice water. Hot showers instead of cold,” the Council Member described the conditions in a Facebook post. When temperatures in cells rise above 80 degrees, the facility’s showers are supposed to run cold water, according to his post, however, when the group tested the showers, the water was hot, he said.
With air conditioning only installed in the medical and intake areas of the facility, staff and detainees were forced to rely on a few fans to cool off. According to Lander, fans were placed at one end of hallways providing “some relief for the first few cells, but none for the half at the other end.” He added that there were also not enough fans in the staff areas.
Ten new fans were delivered to the detention center at the start of the heatwave on Friday, but according to Lander, since the maintenance staff is off on weekends, no one was around to assemble the fans, so they remained in their boxes.
“As for something ‘criminal’ in this justice system, that seemed like it today. We knew the heat emergency was coming days ago. So either the fans should have been ordered earlier, or maintenance staff should have worked this weekend as part of the emergency,” Lander noted.
Mayor de Blasio declared a heat emergency last Thursday, July 18, which was in effect from Friday morning through Sunday night.
Corrections staff allowed detainees to stay in the day-room, which was a bit cooler, however, Lander added, because of a slashing the previous evening, a 24-hour lockdown was enforced on one floor from Saturday to Sunday morning, keeping “people in their boiling cells that whole time.”
Lander blamed the conditions on the building’s antiquated infrastructure noting that the facility “is not air-conditioned, the hallways are long and the cells narrow, the showers don’t have hot/cold controls to allow individual temperature-setting.”
As part of the Mayor’s plan to close Rikers Island by 2027 and replace the facility with four new or renovated borough-based jails in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens, the Brooklyn Detention Center is slated to be demolished and rebuilt as a modern 395-foot facility with capacity for 1,437 as well as 30,000 square feet of ground-level community and/or commercial space.
The plan is currently in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process. The City Planning Commission held a hearing on the four jails earlier this month.
The Board of Correction organized Sunday’s inspection to follow up on a letter that NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Criminal Justice Committee Chair Keith Powers sent to the NYC Department of Corrections Commissioner last week.
“I’m committed to following up with them, with the Corrections Commissioner, and with City Hall, to make sure we do the things we must immediately, before the next heat emergency (more are coming), and for the longer-term too, to dramatically reduce the number of people awaiting trial in such cruel conditions,” Lander said.