How a Brooklyn Jail Without Heat Inspired So Much Outrage

Feb 07, 2019 · 134 comments
Mike (San Diego)
I was the manager of a county juvenile hall in California for seven years. We had a large number of serious offenders in custody, including murderers. That said, this story is about one thing—willful cruelty directed toward helpless people. Whoever is the head of that institution should be criminally prosecuted for deliberately and willfully abusing prisoners in his charge. The disturbed people who run that institution are no better than the worst of its convicted inmates.
Peter Turner (Little Falls NY)
I have had the depressing experience of visiting an inmate at the MDC on several occasions. I was appalled at the treatment of the visitors by the surly desk clerk, who brought two young mothers to tears with a barrage of orders and criticisms. When I attempted to intercede on their behalf I was threatened with expulsion. My friend on the inside said that most of the guards just went through the motions but were prone to flying off the handle for the most minor infractions. Prison is prison and inhumanity is a thread through every prison, but this story really brings home the worst of these gulags operating in our midst. Warden Quay needs to be shipped out, so to speak.
Great Lakes State (Michigan)
@Peter Turner Prison is not prison in the country of Denmark, study up on how socially and economical successful socialist countries rehabilitate not debilitate incarcerated individuals. This decaying from the inside out of a country seeks to destroy many, because it refuses to give justice to its peoples. Maybe the mayor and the governor, and other elected officials of this part of NYC should be sent to this facility for a month or so. No bail, no relief, court appointed attorney(s) and no idea of how the nightmare will end.
elmire45 (nj)
@Great Lakes State This is a FEDERAL facility. De Blasio has no control over it. But maybe DJT would benefit frim some time in this institution
Tony Cochran (Oregon )
Incarcerated people have inalienable rights too. One of which bars cruel and unusual punishment. Certainly living in extremely cold conditions, with no hot water or alternative heating mechanisms, constitutes a clear violation of US Constitutional law, Federal Bureau of Prisons Guidelines and international law. I've been in prison, for 10 months. Being isolated and completely at the will of prison management intensifies traumatic situations, such as the possibility of freezing. As for those who say the issues with the NY Housing Authority should be bifurcated, no - the State, the commons, has a duty, We the People, have a legal and ethical duty to ensure all vulnerable members of the community have adequate living conditions.
chouchou14 (brooklyn NY)
When POTUS’s friends such as Paul Manafort and Roger Stone get sent to jail, I hope they receive the same treatment as the prisoners in MDC.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
This piece presumes that the wrongs reported are the result of mean and cruel people, people who are not good, bad people. Thus if the bad people are replaced, the wrongs will end. It’s the view of people without the experience of seeing wrongs perpetuated by people who are ignorant of the consequences of their acts, of people who are too preoccupied to notice that others are in distress, of those who are afraid of disrupting their plans and efforts to address the needs of others. It ignores the simple fact that ignorance and lack of consideration exacts much more human misery than does malice.
Zappo (<br/>)
The head of the prison should be jailed. The guards should be as well. Sickening.
Blackmamba (Il)
What is " inefficient" and what is " incompetent"? Indifference is much worse than malign cruelty. And it is worse than inefficient or incompetent. With 5% of humanity America has 25% of the world's prisoners. And 40% of the 2.3 million Americans in prison are black like Ben Carson. Because the 13.3 % of Americans who are black are persecuted for acting like white people do without any criminal justice consequences. Prison is the carefully carved colored exception to the 13th Amendments abolition of slavery and involuntary servitude. See " 13th" Ava DuVernay
Joey Twochins (Virginia Beach)
I pleaded guilty to a white collar crime in 2010 and was subsequently sentenced to 64 months in a federal prison camp. While I experienced many things, both good and bad, while incarcerated, the thing that stood out the most was the cruelty, incompetence, and amoral conduct of at least half of the BOP employees that I encountered. This goes from top to bottom. Most BOP employees could not get a job elsewhere, not even as a mall cop. Investigation? The BOP has been in need of a comprehensive investigation for quite a while. Remember, folks: They suck up your taxpayer dollars like no other federal agency.
Sam (NYC)
Callous indifference towards fellow human beings, sums it up. Imprisonment as torture indicates a society that completely lacks a moral center. The "I have mine screw everyone else" regardless of the nature of the "other's transgression" attitude belies a completely heartless, materialist culture.
ibeetb (nj)
As far as I know, JAIL is not a place that sends out flowery invitations. It is a place one goes willingly. Commit crimes at your OWN risk!
Hugh Wudathunket (Blue Heaven)
@ibeetb: Many of the people in jail are being held pending trial. Some are held without charges, or they are subject to charges that are so obviously bogus (such as interfering with a peace officer when all they were doing is making a video of unlawful or abusive police conduct), that the charges are dropped after a few days of being punished for no crime. Other than civil rights protesters seeking to challenge unjust laws, almost no one goes to jail by choice. Don't believe everything you think you know.
Many inmates there are awaiting trial and haven’t been convicted of anything. Also they are human beings like yourself and deserve to be treated humanely. I’m not sure why this is lost on so many commenters on here. Why do so many people lack humanity?
Djr (Chicago)
The big central question lying out in the open here is when will voting Americans wake up to the fact that the politicians and their leash-tugging overlords are driving the country at 125 mph into third world-dom.
@Djr Absolutely!! The Dropout/Dollar store remaking of America. Much easier to tamp down a marginalized horde. I'm relieved to be 60.
Martin (Boltey)
90% of these people are garbage and a menace to Society let alone the loved ones who many abused or neglected. Having said that someone needs to find out why the facility was without heat for nearly a week. The continuing relentless incompetence of Federal Workers deserves exposure. There are plenty of incompetent people in the Private Sector as well but at least their investors and/or Owners are at risk.
Susan (Napa)
The injustice of the justice system described here hardly seems to reflect the “Greatest Nation on The Planet” claim our politicians tout so frequently. The poor are a source of income for police departments and a whole slew of others connected to all those minor infractions, where if you are poor and living paycheck to paycheck, a simple traffic ticket can literally ruin your life. There is a good book on the financial exploitation of the poor in the justice system titled ‘The Divide - American Justice in The Age of The Wealth Gap’ by Matt Taibbi. It is a truly shocking report of the injustice heaped upon the poor and the exploitation of minor infractions to garner funds etc. Our ‘justice’ system truly stinks if you are without means to protect yourself.
Rhporter (Virginia)
This article is short on facts. Some investigative reporting to pinpoint the causes would be far more useful. Of course that kind of work is much harder than pontificating. But it might help improve conditions and pinpoint responsibility.
ManhattanWilliam (New York, NY)
The title of this article astounds me! Why WOULDN'T finding out that a federal jail housed human beings through the coldest weather of the season without heat cause outrage? Is it surprising that there are still decent people living here in NYC that, notwithstanding the possible crimes committed by the inmates, they find it inhumane to treat anyone in such disgusting and dangerous conditions? We don't quite live in a banana republic yet, at least not here in NYC at the moment, I'm glad to say. As for many other parts of this tormented land.....
Eraven (NJ)
Why do our politicians keep telling us this is the greatest country in the world ? We are becoming one of the cruelest countries in the world. Our country is rich for few, free for few.
Gordon Alderink (Grand Rapids, MI)
We (Americans) aren't so exceptional, are we? These stories are too frequent, and seldom known.
CFXK (<br/>)
arrest, try and jail everyone - at whatever level - who had a had in this criminal behavior.
Harley Leiber (Portland OR)
A jail is only as decent and humane as the people who run it. From the lowest, newly hired, inexperienced correctional officer or records clerk to the highest level, experienced administrators. They work 9-5, swing shift or graveyard. They are there 8 hours a day, give or take, while the inmates are there 24 hours a day. Staff go home to a warm bed, a hot meal, their families . While training is critical to insure the job is done correctly, it all begins with selection, screening and hiring. The minimum qualifications for correctional officers are, as a rule, pretty low but as a rule, include a high school diploma, no serious criminal convictions, an ability to understand the basics of custodial corrections and put up with a fairly boring and mundane set of routine job duties. Attracting new hires in the current job market is very very difficult. It is not a job that attracts upwardly mobile, educated people. Studies have shown that the most successful correctional officer can tolerate high levels of boredom, lack of job satisfaction, and repetition while keeping their cool in a stressful and some times dangerous environment. Listening to inmates, caring for them, supervising them while providing for their basic needs ( food, meds, hygiene, blankets, safety) pending adjudication of all criminal charges or the completion of their sentence is the job. The staff at the NYC metro jail who knowingly allowed this situation to go on are unfit to work there. Fire them.
James Green (Lyman NH)
For years I’ve listened to politicians and “religious “ people extoll the decency and generosity of the American people. How hollow has that become considering the increasing shift toward disregard and even open contempt for people in dire circumstances? This nation is rapidly losing its humanity and any claim to a moral high ground so touted in the past, and for that I fear for our future. If those charged with the care of others, regardless of their social status, can not or will not muster the simple decency to alleviate suffering, what have we become?
shirls (Manhattan)
@James Green ...a reflection of those in charge??? those who choose to look away!!!
charles (new york)
@James Green a Gulag.
Alternate Identity (East of Eden, in the land of Nod)
That this sort of thing happened may be unconscionable (to me it is) but also to me not at all surprising. If you want to know why it is not surprising, google up "Stanford Prison Experiment" and read. In the US, we don't want to know what goes on in our jails, and part of this has to do with the rush to judgement concerning those incarcerated in them - the concept of innocent until proven guilty is honoured more in the breach than the observance. There are a couple of effects from this mindset. First, the recidivism rate in the US is sky high. Other societies which actually treat their inmates as people and actually try to correct the problems that caused them to become criminals have a much lower recidivism rate. I don't expect that to change in the US because of the huge role vengeance and retribution play in the way people here think. Second, we have an entire industry built around incarceration. That industry has become politically powerful and will protect itself against any attempt to clean it up, alter its operation, or change its ways. And it feeds on taking in increasingly large numbers of people. As a society we don't want to see the underclass in our midst. And once out of sight we don't care how they are treated, as long as they stay hidden. Until this attitude changes we can expect more outrages like this one.
charles (new york)
@Alternate Identity "Second, we have an entire industry built around incarceration" the industry you are talking about consists of 95% government workers backed by powerful civil service unions. in return for their support politicians milk the taxpayer to pay for their salaries and and excessive benefits.
Patty (Chiang Mai, Thailand)
If we can find any good to come out of this exposure, perhaps we will accept that civil societies Will always include the misguided and the unwell—including the criminal. We should be reminded of this reality and, more importantly, be reminded about how we treat such people —in and out of incarceration. What societies do to address the human condition early on, and when we fail, what is our moral responsibility, needs to be front and center in communities. The location of new jails in NYC should be an opportunity to ask the bigger questions. No secrets.
James (Indiana)
A very disturbing story. The comments below contain really good observations, in addition to what was in the article. This story needs further investigation - circumstances, chains of events, individual decisions, prisoner culture, guard culture, institutional culture.
michjas (Phoenix )
In evaluating the acts of the guards, you have to know how often they have been attacked by inmates and how often those attacks include deadly force. You also need to know how often the inmates attack each other and how often those attacks threaten the security of the guards. The notion that jail violence is mostly caused by the guards suggests that there is a sadistic guard population. Maybe. But we already know that there is a criminal inmate population, many of whom are habitually violent.
Sm (New Jersey)
@michjas, the guards are still the ones in power. They take a job knowing there will be violence. The fact that there is gives no excuse for unethical behavior on their end.
n.c.fl (venice fl)
@michjas I never did criminal law, but do know the difference between those in "jail" charged with a crime - largely poor and black unable to make even nominal bail - and "a criminal inmate population, many of whom are habitually violent . . ." ? I shudder at the possibility that you and many like you just don't care about our facts and our laws, about the differences between those charged and incarcerated and those convicted and in prison. Open carry gun "rights" protected by a wrong-headed interpretation of our Second Amendment is always all ways to be enforced, but our undisputed Eighth Amendment right to be free from "cruel and unusual" punishment and treatment by any government agency or agent- state or federal - is discretionary? I generally don't personalize observations like this. That said, I do hope that you and those who share your twisted angry views of our facts and laws are chain-smoking 80 year olds . . .old and departing soon. FL voter F/70
Loomy (Australia)
Another inexcusable incident from the World's richest 3rd World country. (Which makes it much worse than those 3rd world countries that are poor and cannot afford to do as much as others, whilst the U.S chooses and decides to not do those things that all other similar nations do for their people and the society they live in) Greed and Cruelty go hand in hand in the Land of Opportunity for the Opportunists that think it is ok to prosper by taking prosperity from others in their doing.
Teri G. (San Francisco)
I believe this incident took place during the federal shutdown and prison guards were not getting paid. That is an additional factor in this situation.
Sm (New Jersey)
@Teri G., the incident took place this last week. Federal govt was not shut down. Even then, not an excuse to expose people to the elements and less than humane conditions.
Linda (Oklahoma)
Many people insist the United States is a Judeo-Christian country. Some people insist prisoners deserve whatever horrible things happen to them. May I point out: Hebrews 13: 3 Remember those in prison, as though you were in prison with them, and the mistreated, as though you yourselves were suffering.
Patricia (Pasadena)
And then there's Matthew, who describes how Jesus asked the disciples why they neglected him when he was in prison. Aghast, they denied doing any such thing. "But if you did that to anyone else, you did it to me," he said. So Jesus was feeling pretty mistreated by this catastrophe, I imagine. Glad he didn't freeze to death.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
Cruelty or indifference? Institutions operate on a system of rules and procedures which can easily degenerate into habits and routines which treat people without care nor generosity. There need not be any intentions to hurt nor to add to punishments to produce real harm under such conditions. I think what the writer is attributing to cruel intentions are just heartless indifference.
Rachel (Indianapolis)
At a certain point, heartless indifference blends into cruelty. At the end of the day, when this kind of event is the result, it becomes a largely semantic difference.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
Taxpayers want proof that their money is not being misused, so there are mandatory procedures for big expenses like replacing malfunctioning heating and air conditioning that can delay fixes until the procedures are fulfilled. Additional delays can occur as well. Now if a conscientious person is confronted such delays and tries to get help to resolved the obstacles, they might be but if nobody feels inclined to shake up the system, that’s not intentional but indifferent. Cruelty is a deliberate act, like obstructing normal procedures to prolong people’s sufferings.
Gracie (Australia)
@Casual Observer Like deliberately opening a window to let more cold in? Like half cooked oatmeal as a mea? Like taking off a blanket off an inmate? Like not using a generator? Like refusing the help offered of hot food and extra blankets for the whole facility? Like with-holding needed medication? Like with-holding medical care for an ulcerated leg? Etc, etc Those sorts of stated deliberate actions to make things worse? All deliberate acts of cruelty.
Larry N (Los Altos, CA)
There is some comparison in the article between the locked up prisoners and the many thousands of unincarcerated citizens in widely spread apartments who were similarly without adequate heating. Not to diminish the plight of the latter, but there is quite a lot of difference. The unincarcerated are not trapped in a single, inaccessible place, they can share available blankets with others nearby, friends and relatives can bring them warm clothing and blankets, they are not without electricity, so they have lighting and some measure of electrical space heating, they can be reached by emergency city services, and so on. The prisoners, by contrast, are trapped and utterly at the mercy of the prison administration, which, though of course has to deal with prison security, nevertheless should be able to mount the resources to provide emergency relief. Do they accept that responsibility? Did they accept that responsibility? Time to find out.
Larry N (Los Altos, CA)
@Larry N There is something in this story that calls to mind Melania's "I don't care do u" coat and her husband's embrace of Sheriff Arpaio. To paraphrase the great Donald Rumsfeld, "You Make America Great with leaders you have, not the leaders you wish you had".
Roch McDowell (Bronx NY)
You can judge a country by how it treats the people on the very bottom. How do we sleep at night knowing this level of suffering is possible in such a rich country?
Tullymd (Bloomington Vt)
Yes, a culture of cruelty presided over by an abusive sadistic president who seems to take much pleasure in people's suffering.
winthropo muchacho (durham, nc)
I did some pro bono criminal defense work in New Orleans over a span of 20 years or so pre Katrina, and I can tell you for a fact that in order to get a job as a guard at Sheriff Charles Foti’s Orleans Parish Prison back then you had to have a degree in Sadomasochism on your resume. Apparently ditto for the folks who now work at the Metropolitan Detention Center.
Patricia (Pasadena)
The guards were not the problem. The administrators make these decisions.
Hellen (NJ)
So NYC declares itself a sanctuary city and then holds illegal immigrants in these conditions or allows them to roam freely and have fist/gunfights on the subway? Yet the policy of enforcing control at the border and Visa entries is wrong? You can't make this up unless you are a pandering politician.
Martin Brooks (NYC)
@Hellen This is a FEDERAL prison. NYC has nothing to do with it - it just happens to be located here. And since the people involved in the subway incident haven't been arrested yet (AFAIK), we have no idea if they're illegal immigrants or not.
Ellen (San Diego)
"American exceptionalism was a constant theme in my conversations. But instead of realizing its founders' admireable commitments, today's United States has proved itself to be exceptional in far more problematic ways that are shockingly at odds with immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights. As a result, constrasts between private wealth and public squalor abound". - Professor Philip Alston, U.N. Special Rapporteur, on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights - statement on his visit to the U.S., Washington, D.C. 12/13/17
solar farmer (Connecticut)
We have become a society devoid of compassion, personal responsibility and doing the right thing. When the FLOTUS wears a coat proclaiming 'I don't care, do you?', that pretty much summed up the State of the Union for this administration. Why are Americans so heartless and cruel? Granted, there have been historical lessons regarding other 'civilizations' which regularly inflicted unspeakable cruelty upon others, and still do to this day, but America is supposed to be better than that. America used to be a place where others could seek refuge from that. It breaks my heart that we have digressed as a society, and the have-not's are still paying the price each and every day as they struggle for the most basic necessities while the have's trample upon their human rights.
Tullymd (Bloomington Vt)
We are in a state of terminal decay.
Martin Amada (Whiting, NJ)
@solar farmer Sorry, but on what basis do you believe “America is supposed to be better than that.”? Our history?
Boggle (Here)
Everyone should read "American Prison" by Shane Bauer. The culture of our prison system must change. The entire goal is dehumanization for both guards and prisoners. It's not about rehabilitation or about penance, or even about just punishment. It is about dollars and a downward spiral of pain with no redemption for anyone.
Doggo (London)
I find the timbre of this article really disappointing. For an article that is supposed to focus on its subject - a large number of prisoners freezing in a federal prison during the worst cold snap of the year - there’s an awful lot of dithering about why people aren’t more offended by other unpleasant things. It is not that hunger “isn’t visual”, or that everyone is so “used to” hearing about housing issues. It’s that these are men, trapped in confinement, freezing. They can’t nip out to a coffee shop to warm up, or sleep on a friend’s couch if the cold gets too bitter - they can’t even put on wooly socks and more sweaters. I thought the “cruelty” in the headline would be the subject of the article, and the prisoners would get more than an abstract mention. How many people are held in this block? What was the duration of the cold snap? Has this happened before? Whose cruelty is the crux of this issue within the actual prison? Were they in solitary confinement? What were their living spaces like? Why was it “unclear” whether blankets had been distributed, and what were the health effects on the prisoners? I’m not sure what this article is actually about, and that’s disappointing.
Ken (Houston)
I have to be shocked at Man's inhumanity to Man, but stuff mentioned in the article says a lot about what we need to do to get better.
Ted (California)
This incident is merely a reflection of what the once-great United States of America has become. Whatever compassion or decency exists is the exclusive entitlement of the wealthiest Americans. Nobody else deserves anything. Those who have the least wealth deserve treatment worse than animals, particularly when they're accused of crimes. (Those freezing prisoners will eventually plead guilty to whatever they were charged with. The constitutional right to a trial is a now a privilege reserved for defendants wealthy enough to hire a private attorney who can actually defend them.) Their misery is the entirely the result of their own poor choices, an inevitable consequence of deficient character. Any expenditure of resources to help those undeserving "takers" is therefore wasted, and better devoted to helping the deserving wealthy acquire more deserved wealth. Thanks to the outright purchase of one of our political parties by the deserving wealthy, those beliefs are incessantly promoted as national dogma. The dogma justifies that party's commitment to redistributing the nation's wealth to its owners through tax cuts and the destruction of any government programs and services that benefit the non-wealthy. (The leaders of the other party, also beholden to wealthy donors, can only mutter muted and ineffectual statements. It remains to be seen how they will deal with the new crop of young activists who apparently lack sufficient respect for their superiors.)
Richard (NYC)
It was never that great.
Hugh Wudathunket (Blue Heaven)
In the American police state, law enforcement prioritizes its uses of force to protect (1) property of the greatest monetary value, followed by (2) owners or the effective controllers of the greatest wealth, and (3) the institutions of government and its contractors based upon how much potential for violence and coercive force they bring to the party (so sorry, government scientists, but you will always lose in a government shutdown). Those who have the least agency over property and weapons, and especially those who are opposed to unfettered use of wealth and weapons to impose their will on society, are identified as the enemies of the state. Despite the federal and state constitutions they are sworn to protect, law enforcement officials routinely treat the unofficial enemy populations with less care and greater cruelty than would be tolerated when handling a stray dog -- and they get away with for the most part. Consider, for example, the likelihood that a Brooklyn animal shelter would be shut down and its administrators punished if it was found that the animals inside were being deliberately subjected to freezing temperatures and general neglect despite their whimpers and wails. Defenders of this system of treating human beings much worse than animals will argue that animals are innocent because they lack the intellect and free will that has allegedly been abused by the wretched who pose a threat to wealth and power -- the 5th, 8th, and 14th Amendments notwithstanding.
Todd (Key West,fl)
@Hugh Wudathunket What a joke. In this country the victims of violent crime tend to look just like the criminals. They are overwhelmingly poor people of color.
Hugh Wudathunket (Blue Heaven)
@Todd: More to the point, victims of unjustified police violence tend to be disproportionately poor, young, or black. And when those victims lack wealth and power, police are almost exonerated for what seem to be obvious crimes of violence of the type they almost never engage in when a person of wealth is involved. The case of the perfectly innocent, yet homeless, Christopher Maney, who was deliberately mauled by the police dog of officer Terence Garrison illustrates this dynamic. Despite the fact that the officer determined Maney was not suspected of any crime prior to turning the dog on him, Garrison allowed the mauling to continue, predictably terrifying and injuring Maney as a result. There is no precedence for a person of wealth being abused by the police in such a manner. Yet, when the case made its way through the courts, they found that the officer had not abused his authority by subjecting an admittedly innocent, yet destitute, citizen to a gruesome mauling. Even the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals gave a pass to a use of force that would surely bring a swift end to the officer's career had the victim been a captain of industry, a well to do person, or a properly licensed and leashed dog that had harmed no one. Thus, I stand by what I wrote. Police protect property and its owners while often victimizing those who are obviously poor or engaging in speech or peaceable assemblies that challenge the wealthy and the use of police to enhance the power of the privileged.
chris (canton, mi)
I knew that I shouldn't hit the 'Read Comments' button. I knew what I would see. But here I have read the comments, and I've seen exactly what I expected. That a significant proportion of the comments would reflect casual cruelty and an absence of compassion or kindness. "As you do to the least of these..." For the few of you who have commented here with some care for the least of these, thank you.
Daphne (East Coast)
Because criminals who show no empathy or mercy for their victims deserve nothing but the best, and taxpayer funded housing should be perfect in all ways. Funny how those who pay their own way and obey the law are on their own. The irony is rich. I could almost belive the Times picks subject to deliberately provoke animosity. And being a Times piece, this is of course Trump's fault.
Baruch (Bend OR)
@Daphne Your lack of empathy is noted. Is that selective based on prejudices and beliefs or are you always like this?
Richard (NYC)
No one is saying it should be “perfect.” Try spending a week in a dark freezing cell with thin clothes and no blanket and see how you like it. And indirectly, it is very much Trump’s fault because of the culture of cruelty and racism that he condones and encourages.
Cathy (Chicago)
@Daphne 4 Mr.Trump is not mentioned in this article. And no, you probably will not be a 'NYTimes pick' which seems to be your idea of being legit. Jared Kushner has introduced legislation to support better treatment of those who are incarcerated although that seems flawed—but you can google 'Mother Jones ' to read another post of view. As you say, 'the irony is rich.'
meloop (NYC)
Most prisons in NYC, both federal and state or city are staffed by city residents who are mostly black and some hispanic. Raial differences are played up and, especially since Trump and Bush began to allow the idea of a them v us mentality, the urd staff and its persoanl attitudes have simply run downhill, jus as if this were in Flirida or Alabama or any former Confederate state. The gurds may not be actively racialists or have an agenda, but icreasingly each one sees his(or her) position as a fortress to be defended and spo, they don't really see they have any interest in the comfort or care of the imantes in their charge.
Salix (Sunset Park, Brooklyn)
Thanks for providing more information and explanation. There is something really wrong with the management of this facility, The intentional nastiness displayed in the refusal to distribute the blankets that NYC sent or to engage a temporary outside generator like those used after Sandy is an insult to our community - to the human community, Please publish the names of the individuals who run this place.
Moso (Seattle)
This is a rambling piece from a writer whom I usually admire. In true NYT fashion, the writer wants to lay the blame on President Trump after noting that there was a culture of cruelty at this jail. I was appalled when I learned that the inmates had been without heat for a week in subzero weather. Please, stop blaming President Trump for everything and let others at least share the blame. The liberals, of which I am one, can be rightfully criticized for having a holier-than-thou attitude. If the liberals would look at themselves and see how they are at fault that would be a good start.
Justin (Miami)
It's a federal prison. Therefore, President Trump is ultimately responsible.
me (US)
Why are both NYT's journos and their readers so much more upset about inadvertent "cruelty" towards inmates/criminals than they are by the deliberate cruelty those inmates/criminals showed to their possibly dead or maimed victims?
MLChadwick (Portland, Maine)
@me Because cruel and unusual punishment is against the law. Hypothermia, frostbite, pneumonia, death--none of these were punishments given to these prisoners by a judge or jury.
Richard (NYC)
Because we’re not like them.
Helicopter (New York)
@Richard Yes, exactly. Those of us who abide by the law and do NOT commit crimes are most decidedly NOT criminals. Recently, members of my family became the victims of a certain criminal’s crimes, which ruined their lives and profoundly harmed our family. This dangerous scoundrel is now out free on so-called supervised release, which means that he is completely free to continue committing crimes and hurting innocent people until a trial begins. Supervised release is an obscene joke. Since our justice system is set up to completely protect the wrongdoers and to do absolutely NOTHING to aid or protect their innocent victims, I care nothing about the lack of heating in the jail. Let them freeze. Let them rot. They do not deserve to live after the sheer evil that many or most of them have carried out against the innocent. Enough of the pity party for society’s most despicable members!
Alex Yuly (Tacoma)
Everyone knows our justice and prison systems are incredibly corrupt and cruel. So are our drug laws. W live in a police state and we fear the police. WAKE UP PEOPLE
Baruch (Bend OR)
Cruelty is "in." We have a president who, in addition to being a foreign agent, cruelly deliberately kidnapped thousands of children and refuses to reunite them with their families. tRumpism = deliberate cruelty. tRumpism gives permission for others to behave cruelly as well. Why is he still in office? Oh, right, republican corruption.
charlotte (pt. reyes station)
kudos to the NYT for heeding the call from an inmate--some of whom may even be innocent!
rosa (ca)
From the top on down, they all need to be fired, all benefits and pension payments stopped. This is what happens when you have Gitmo and people are held without charges for decades. This is what happens when you lock up babies in dog runs. This is what happens when the Supreme Court denies a man religious solace because he's the WRONG RELIGION and puts him to death. This is who we are now. This is what we are now. This is what this country CHOOSES to do when no one is looking. A "Christian" nation? I think not.
It is easy to know the color of the people in there.
Bun Mam (Oakland CA)
‘Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted’. - The 8th Amendment of the US Constitution. When forfeiture of time and freedom is the punishment agreed upon by the court and the convicted individual, wouldn’t anything else constitute a violation of the 8th Amendment?
meloop (NYC)
@Bun Mam I am sure this was at one time-and maybe still is-a seere problem in state and city jails-I do not know what the nature eof the bail problem is in alleged federal run prisons. Certainly, TV shows many guards watch maintain the us-vs them idea , however vicious this becomes. Bail, however, may be a different issue among prisoners whose greatest protection was being invisible and unknown in the US for as long as possible.
Mike Albacoro (NJ)
I am a law-abiding citizen and when I lost power for 3 days from the November snowstorm my house got cold as well. The utility got to it when they could based on the protocols they have in place, and I understand that. Things like this happen that are out of our control...and the outrage is misplaced. If the protestors had loved ones inside maybe their energies would have been better used in figuring out how to get some blankets to their friends/family in the prison while the authorities worked on restoring power,
WomanUp (Houston)
@Mike Albacoro But you could have gone to a friend's house or a hotel. Prisoners could not. And they couldn't even buy another blanket because the commissary was closed, too. Most of these people did not do anything to warrant death by pneumonia. I wouldn't want my dog to be in that condition. And I felt for the people who worked there, too. I would not have wanted to work in the very cold, and it would have hurt my heart to work where there was little I could do to minimize the pain of those caught in it.
NYC Taxpayer (East Shore, S.I.)
@WomanUp Then maybe the prisoners shouldn't have done things to get themselves locked up in the first place.
@Mike Albacoro This comment seems to have been written by one of those "individual human beings plagued by huge deficits of compassion."
thewriterstuff (Planet Earth)
I was remanded to that jail years ago. The charges were later dropped, but I spent nearly 22 hours in there before seeing a judge. I was locked in a cage the size of my dining room, with 28 other women, many of them in various stages of drug withdrawal, including a terrifying one that was clearly psychotic and literally climbing the bars. There was one bench and one toilet that was so filthy that for 22 hours I did not pee. Across the hall was a cell the same size. It was occupied by a wealthy Chinese woman who'd been arrested for gambling. Her daughter worked for the DA's office, so she got special accommodations and a blanket. Between the cells was a sink, but the sign said the water was not potable and everyone was thirsty. The the window did not close and there was a chilly draft. I sat perched on a six inch ledge above the bench and did not move. Most of the women were sex workers and had been there before. One had crack in the cuff of her shirt, she lit a pipe and charged for hits, unconcerned. All night long, people banged on the bars screaming 'officer!' the only time they came was to shove another woman in or take one out. At 5 in the morning bologna sandwiches were thrown through the bars along with bottles of water. No one left their seat or they would end up on filthy floor, with the people in severe withdrawal. They vomited into the filth and mice roamed freely. Now, add no heat to that in winter. The official response is disgusting, prisoners are people.
MarciaG (Brooklyn)
@thewriterstuff It sounds like you might actually be talking about the Manhattan Detention Center, a/k/a The Tombs, which shares the same initials. It would be more likely to house the kind of recently arrested individuals you describe. The MDC in Brooklyn houses only federal defendants, who have been arrested for crimes such as drug trafficking, gang violence, terrorism, and fraud. Many of the females there are undocumented; other defendants often await trial outside the facility on bail. To my knowledge the women in the federal MDC live in dormitory-style housing, not the large holding cells described here.
SR (Bronx, NY)
"Most of the women were sex workers and had been there before." There's that jail's real crime.
ms (Midwest)
Once you have detained an individual you have also taken on the moral responsibility of ensuring that person's welfare.
Scottilla (Brooklyn)
And now the federal government wants to take NYCHA over?
cheryl (yorktown)
Actually, it is time fo some screaming and yelling on behalf of public housing residents who went throught he subzero temperatures without heat. There are throw away comments to the effect that, well, they can just go to a friend's or they can just get more blankets. Sure, but some of those residents are elderly, or have disabilities, and most have little income. No "discretionary" income - and they do not have real alternatives. Or, they would not stay there. Staying a few nights or a week in the cold is one thing - living in the cold, often in severely deteriorated conditions, for months is terrible treatment. It is unconscionable to fail to provide adequate heat to prisoners; it is also unconscionable to treat low income residents as if they were not human. And the people who haven't done their jobs should be fired.
M (PA)
@cheryl And yet I have gone for more than a day or two without heat because my heater died and the weather conditions were such that the repairs could not be performed. I’m not wealthy, but I can afford the repairs (on credit) and maintenance, but I cannot leave my home to seek shelter elsewhere. I agree that any landlord has a responsibility to their tenants, but there is a vast difference between the travails of the public housing tenant and the inmates described here.
Zelda (DelMar, CA)
Unless you're bedridden, you could leave your home to ask shelter elsewhere. Or you could buy a space heater without leaving your home. You can have as many blankets as you want, unlike the prisoners who were limited to two blankets. You have options. They had no options.
Me (NYC)
This is a ridiculous question - why do people care. What's the difference between free people living in NYCHA and caged men living in cells. Let's see - 1 group of people can actually leave the building, has access to coats and blankets, can call their relatives and friends to ask for help. I wonder which group of people that is. Wow.
NYC Taxpayer (East Shore, S.I.)
I can't believe the absolute waste of political energy on the worst of the worst.
Michelle Llyn (Huntington Beach)
@NYC Taxpayer you do know that some of these people are innocent.
ms (Midwest)
@NYC Taxpayer What is the difference between the murder during the commission of a robbery, and deliberately concealing that cigarettes cause cancers? The robber has killed one person - but how many people did that CEO kill? I would call the abuse of power for one's own benefit when it knowingly results in harm to others the worst of the worst - but wealth insulates many from any significant consequences.
Deering24 (New Jersey)
@NYC Taxpayer, you could easily be regarded as "the worst" someday. Anyone could be.
Pecan (Grove)
Many comments claim the inmates have not be convicted of anything but are awaiting trial. True or false? Citation?
Al (NYC)
@Pecan Go to the Bureau of Prisons website for MCC MCC is for pretrial inmates (not yet convicted) although it can house prisoners on appeal or prisoners convicted in other jurisdictions who are also going to trial in Manhattan (Southern District of NY).
Pecan (Grove)
@Al Thanks.
sera (planet earth)
Inmates can't leave the prison of their own volition.
Jim Steinberg (Fresno, Calif.)
Only a lost soul would require an explanation for why mistreating/freezing locked-up inmates cries outrage.
Gracie (Australia)
@Jim Steinberg Yes. Thank you Jim. It is so obvious that to be humane is to be compassionate, that this type of situation makes lack of compassion stand in stark relief. The worst part of lack of compassion is the enjoyment , by those people, of other peoples’ pain. Sickening and unacceptable , especially in a a 1st world country, particularly one that keeps telling itself and telling the rest of the world that it’s the ‘best country in the world.’
Alpha Dog (Saint Louis)
Every hospital and most every nursing home have back-up power generation on site. What doesn't happen is that fires are set to burn electrical infrastructure by patients or residents. But fires are set all the time by criminals. whether this was in this case done or not, I would like to know the backstory of. If it was, then that must be remediated.
tr (Maryland)
We have an extremely high moral duty to those we have locked up, and who therefore cannot take any action towards self-preservation. If we are going to take away their freedom to get warm, find food, obtain medical care, etc. we had better provide those things for these people. What kind of a society are we if we turn a 10 month custody sentence into a death sentence without the benefit of a trial and proper sentencing? What happened to these people is horrifying.
David (NJ)
Perhaps because they were physically detained and that it was "legally" sanctioned? Why are some people outraged about animal cruelty and not human murder? Individual differences and concerns I imagine play a part as well as what is communicated and available for society to see. I think we tend to be more outraged the closer the matter is to our own issues and situations as well.
Charles Chotkowski (Fairfield CT)
The big difference between inmates in the Metropolitan Detention Center and residents of New York City Housing Authority facilities is that the inmates are in custody, but the residents are free to come and go, to take measures to ameliorate their own situation. Inmates are utterly at the mercy of their jailors, who are responsible for their safety, but they can do little or nothing to help themselves.
stephen beck (nyc)
This meandering "When a tree falls in the forest" column is absurd. It compares unlike situations and implies protests happen only when it's convenient. Horrible as no heat was for those in public housing, they weren't locked in their apartments without warm clothing or blankets. And a few hundred city workers were on the job trying to fix things, unlike the federal detention folks who seemed to take no action as a matter of policy. And, BTW, Trump didn't "suggest" that police not protect the heads of suspects as they enter police cars. That's what Trump said. His smirking and clear suggestion was that police should bang the heads of suspects, and, more broadly, that police violence was okay with him (Trump).
Elizabeth Hartley Filliat (Roswell, Georgia)
Only a repeat of Patty O’s last paragraph in the comments section with a thank you to her for sharing her insight: “The main reason I was enraged by this particular story was that I've become so tired of seeing those who hold power treat those, who hold none, as less than human. And it only seems to be getting worse in the U.S.” We are all equal in the mind of God.
DMS (San Diego)
This is the Attica of the 21st century. The burden of keeping prison reform in the foreground of American consciousness now falls on family and friends on the outside. May they persevere relentlessly. To the rest of us, those kept in these freezing and inhumane cages are essentially invisible, now and for long after they get out. Shame on all of us.
Nancy (Massachusetts)
This was a travesty! There is no room in this country, despite trump, for depriving anyone of heat during the winter. The fact that other innocent people have been without heat is in no way justification for keeping prisoners in these conditions. Some of these detainees have been convicted of a crime and some have only been charged. I should add that as I read this article, I expected to find that this was a private jail. But, that the federal government is responsible only makes this incident more reprehensible. I don't want to live in a country that allows abuses of this kind. I hope those responsible are called to answer for their part in this shameful incident.
Jonathan Katz (St. Louis)
Apartment buildings on the upper East Side (or anywhere) don't have backup generators. If their power failed, they'd be in the same fix. Missing from all this coverage is just how cold the interior was. Can someone tell us?
Frankster (Paris)
@JonathanKatz Why don't you tell us what temperature you believe is too cold for us poor folks? And where did you get your data that no apartment building in the world has a backup generator? Some commenters here might reflect on how they sound to others...
sophia (bangor, maine)
@Jonathan Katz: Rich folks buildings don't have back-up generators? Now that's pretty far-fetched don't you think? I'd like to see your stats on that one.
Jubah (North Carolina)
"When he had the opportunity to serve his country for real, his father got him out of it, and I think it's really disingenuous for him to talk about patriotism in any way shape or form," Kenney told CNN, referring to military deferments Trump obtained that kept him from being sent to Vietnam during the war.
sparty b (detroit, mi)
i had a similar experience several decades ago and it felt like torture. certainly cruel and unusual.
Patty O (deltona)
It seems you're asking why people were outraged about one example of inhumane treatment, but not another example of inhumane treatment. I can only answer for myself. Because this is the one I knew about. I found it extremely disturbing that human beings locked in a cage could be denied the basic necessity of warmth. Had I caught the article about the sexual assault of female inmates, I would have been just as outraged. And as far as the New York City Housing Authority, they were working at getting the heat restored. Too slowly? I'm sure the residents thought so. But it's not completely unexpected for brown-outs or power failures during unusually cold or hot weather. I read and watch much more news than the average. But I don't think any one person can be 100% informed on everything that's happening everywhere. People work, have families, etc. The main reason I was enraged by this particular story was that I've become so tired of seeing those who hold power treat those, who hold none, as less than human. And it only seems to be getting worse in the U.S.
cheryl (yorktown)
@Patty O from reading some accounts in the Times, the impression I got was that there are some apartments and buildings run by NYCHA that are so substandard, that regular heat in cold weather is not provided. It has nothing to do with demand, brownouts, etc, it has to do with a total failure to maintain equipment over many years.
Margareta (<br/>)
Why? Because a governmental entity in the United States perpretrated egregious human rights violations that inflicted severe pain and suffering on US citizens that were held captive by force. Why wouldn't there be outrage?
News Matters (usa)
Why? Maybe some of those who have retained a level of humanity found the abuse of people who can't leave, who can't do anything about their situation because they are physically prevented from doing anything to help themselves - appalling. Someone homeless, poor, otherwise in a bad situation can leave, can ask for help and expect to get some level of help. People who are incarcerated - including those being held - don't have the same luxury. They can't leave. They are dependent on whatever they are given by people who are not inclined to be sympathetic. And even if someone asks for help - even an extra blanket to ward off the cold - there's only a 50/50 chance they might get it. Bravo to those with enough humanity to stand up.
Eugene (NYC)
There is no doubt that state law applies in the facility -- either directly or under the special territorial jurisdiction of the United States. Why haven't there been arrests and prosecutions of everyone from the warden to the head of the Bureau of prisons, to the Attorney General. At seems clear that all are guilty of criminal behavior in this matter.
Mike Albacoro (NJ)
@Eugene. Unless they lit the fire they didn't commit a crime. How is it their fault that an electrical fire occurred. They are at the mercy of Con Edison to repair and restore power.
NYC Taxpayer (East Shore, S.I.)
@Eugene I don't think the state or city have any jurisdiction over federal properties.
cheryl (yorktown)
@Mike Albacoro It was NOT a Con Ed failure: it was in equipment that is owned and operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, inside the jail.
Bunkyboy7 (Monticello NY)
The majority of inmates in MDC Brooklyn are in pre-trial detention, which means they haven't been convicted of anything and are still entitled to the presumption of innocence. They are overwhelmingly poor and people of color. Our society demands on their behalf at least basic food, housing and medical care to survive and family contact to maintain their sanity. At the recently held hearing in Federal Court before Judge Analisa Torres, evidence was introduced that the higher ups in the administration, including the warden and the facility's legal counsel, were not merely indifferent and without a plan to prevent the inmates from harm, but told outright lies to deflect inquiries by the Federal Defender attorneys who were trying to protect their clients against the mistreatment that was going on. These officials need to be held accountable and replaced, even in the age of Trump, and the inmates who are later convicted should be "compensated" with lower sentences for the horrors they endured at the hands of the same Government that is prosecuting them.
magicisnotreal (earth)
Maybe the same concentration gave a place to focus the rage that has been building across America over the last 40 years of republicans stealing our government from us and using it against us.
Chuck French (Portland, Oregon)
Seems to me this is a better example about how "outrage" is manufactured for show. Although the headline screams about "so much outrage," it's more likely the "outrage" was confined to a small handful of activist idealists who bounced it around social media to make it appear that the public really cared about the plight of drug dealers and gang members. They don't, and they probably shouldn't, at least not in comparison to the plight of people who are freezing in public housing, and have to go to work each day at an honest job.
DMS (San Diego)
@Chuck French The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes
M. Grove (New England)
@Chuck French You talk about the headline. Did you read the article? Give it a try.
curious (Niagara Falls)
@Chuck French: I suspect that you are correct in that much (or most) of the public are not particularly troubled by this incident. Which only makes it worse -- it points to a moral blindness which seems endemic to American culture as a whole. Those you describe as "freezing in public housing" are not being held there by the coercive power of the state. When you deprive a person of their freedom, no matter how valid (or invalid) the reason, you become responsible for their safety. Civilized communities acknowledge this basic truth. America doesn't.
Nate (London)
One thing that is so amazing about the American media and articles like this is that they refer to presumably innocent citizens on remand as "inmates" and fail to distinguish between the accused and the convicted. The bigger discussion to be had is twofold: (1) why are so many individuals being detained on remand in a democracy like the United States? (2) Why is the housing for individuals on remand not set up like a hotel as it is in other countries? I am not confident that American journalists even understand the difference between the citizens in a jail on one hand and convicted criminals in a prison on the other.
See also