(Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Justice late on Wednesday ordered an investigation into a Brooklyn jail where inmates said they spent days in frigid, dark cells after a fire cut power and heat during a cold snap in New York City, media reports said.
FILE PHOTO – A New York City Police (NYPD) car is parked outside the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center, following a bomb threat in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., February 4, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
In a statement published by the New York Times, the DOJ said its watchdog Office of the Inspector General will examine whether or not the Bureau of Prisons responded appropriately to the incident at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.
“The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) are committed to the safe and humane living and working conditions of all inmates and employees,” the department said in a statement also published by other media outlets.
A Jan. 27 electrical fire caused a power outage at the detention center as temperatures fell to near zero Fahrenheit (minus 18 Celsius) in New York City.
The frigid conditions at the facility sparked legal challenges, a public outcry and protests by political activists, friends and relatives of the 1,600 prisoners held there.
Several U.S. judges are looking into the matter, and a lawsuit has also been filed.
Detention center employees and inmates testified on Tuesday before Judge Analisa Torres at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan. Torres is one of several judges looking into possible violations at the facility.
Lawyers for prisoners said at the hearing that some parts of the prison were still without heat and some inmates have not received medical care since the power outage began.
Officials with the detention center and the DOJ were not immediately available for comment.
Jail authorities have said that power, heat and medical care had been restored on Sunday.
On Monday, law firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, accusing the Federal Bureau of Prisons of exposing prisoners to inhumane conditions at the detention center. A hearing was set for Feb. 13.
The Bureau of Prisons oversees federal prisons and jails and is under the umbrella of the Department of Justice.
Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; editing by Darren Schuettler