Last February, there were numerous media reports about how the 1,700 prisoners who were being housed in Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) were being forced to live in freezing conditions – and were not being provided with any warm meals.
Throughout the time that the facility did not have any heat and only emergency lighting, prisoners were kept on full lock-down: 24/7 in their cells.
All visitations were canceled – even the ones with attorneys.
At the time, prison officials explained that the problem was related to an electrical fire that had occurred at the facility on Sunday, January 27th.
Electricity was finally restored on Sunday, February 3rd – and the heat came back on shortly after that.
During the week when prisoners had neither, MDC was even more of a living hell than it usually is for the men and women who are incarcerated at the maximum-security prison. Outdoor temperatures during that time period plummeted to 2 degrees and nearly 20 degrees below in terms of the windchill factor.
But unexpected events like the January 27th fire happen – and you can’t hold prison officials accountable for things like that.
Or can you?
New OIG Report Reveals the Truth
A newly released report from the BOP’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) reveals that many of the explanations and statements that were issued by MDC officials last February were intentionally erroneous.
To begin with, the power outage and the loss of heat were unrelated events.
According to the report, six days before the January 27th electrical fire, “multiple air handler heating coils in the West building [which is where all the prisoners are housed] burst due to cold weather”.
Repairing and replacing the burst coils was not a big deal – and the work was completed over the course of a couple of days. And while the inside temperatures dipped a little during that time period, prisoners were not freezing – and they were still getting warm meals served every day.
But according to the OIG report, when they were making the repairs, “MDC Brooklyn facilities staff either did not properly reset certain controls or accidentally turned off the air handler entirely, causing unit temperatures to remain low at times during the outage”.
If it was properly translated to normal, everyday English that blandly worded governmental bureaucratese would read as follows: “Some of MDC’s dumb-ass maintenance staff either didn’t properly reset the controls for the heating system – or they shut off the entire system – which is why there was no heat in the building before or after the electrical fire”.
The bottom line is that the electrical fire on January 27th had absolutely nothing to do with the loss of heat either before the fire or after the fire.
Although the initial loss of heat was caused by a minor mechanical breakdown, the sustained loss of heat was entirely caused by human error.
But Wait There’s More
The OIG report also notes that the lowest recorded temperature inside the facility was 64 degrees – which is below the BOP’s winter target of 68 degrees but certainly not dangerous or even debilitating.
But then comes the big reveal…
“We cannot, however, state with confidence how many inmate housing areas experienced temperatures at or below the BOP target temperature during the week of the power outage, or for how long, due to the absence of reliable temperature measuring methods at MDC Brooklyn”.
The report goes on to note that MDC has no automatic temperature monitoring system – which means that the authors of the report had to rely entirely on the extremely incomplete records that MDC’s staff made with their hand-held thermometers.
No temperatures whatsoever were recorded during the first three days of the heating crisis.
And when MDC staff finally did start recording temperatures, they didn’t bother to do so in every housing unit.
Nor did they bother to note what time of day it was when they made the recordings.
And last, but certainly not least, the OIG report notes that even the temperatures that were recorded are totally unreliable.
That’s because the MDC staff didn’t use a thermometer that would measure the temperature of the ambient air.
Instead, they used “…an infrared laser thermometer that measures surface temperature. If, for example, facilities staff pointed the laser thermometer at a vent blowing hot air, the recording would reflect the surface temperature of the vent, which would likely be higher than the ambient air temperature”.
Even the OIG Inspectors Didn’t Conduct a Proper Investigation
Every federal agency has an OIG.
These OIGs are supposed to operate independently of the agency – and to undertake investigations of alleged improper conduct within the agency that are thorough, objective and complete.
In the case of the MDC freeze-out, the OIG’s inspection team spent several months at MDC trying to unravel exactly what happened – and why it happened.
They spoke to the MDC warden and his administrative staff.
They spoke to the MDC maintenance staff who, as it turns out, were the ones that caused much of the problem.
And during those eight months, they also spoke to 11 prisoners,
11 prisoners out of the 1,700 who suffered through the inhumane conditions that existed throughout MDC.
Guess the OIG inspectors didn’t want to hear very much from those who suffered the most.
Lots of Omissions in the OIG Report
In addition to being written in bureaucratese – and to not gathering enough information from the 1,700 prisoners who endured the lack of electricity, heat and hot meals – the OIG report also fails to include many of the most egregious acts of the MDC administration throughout the crisis.
For example, no mention is made of the fact, that then-MDC Warden Herman Quay initially blamed Con Edison for the power outage – and that he said the heating problem was the result of the power outage.
Nor did it include any mention of the medical neglect that occurred before, during and after the crisis.
When Judge Analisa Torres toured the facility on February 5th, she met with a prisoner suffering from severe colitis who was still wearing the same bloody underwear he’d been wearing for the past week.
Another prisoner with untreated glaucoma and a gunshot wound showed the judge his pus-soaked bandages that hadn’t been changed for more than 3 weeks.
The 13th Amendment Did Not End Slavery
School children are routinely taught that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution eliminated slavery in the United States.
Unfortunately, that’s not quite true.
The 13th Amendment actually contains what is termed an “exception clause” that allows our government to treat prisoners as slaves.
The exact wording of the 13th Amendment is as follows:
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The reason why prisons like MDC exist – and why prisoners in the U.S. have virtually no rights – is because per our Constitution, prisoners are slaves.
It’s why they live in places like MDC.
It’s why they’re fed food that comes in boxes marked “Unfit For Human Consumption”.
It’s why they receive virtually no medical or dental treatment while they are incarcerated.
It’s why they’re paid, on average, about $.50/hour for the work they perform while they are incarcerated.
It’s why – with the exception of Maine and Vermont – they’re not allowed to vote (Many states do not reinstate voting rights for prisoners even after they finish serving their sentence).
It’s why they receive little, if any, education while they’re incarcerated.
And it’s why so many of them emerge from prison as broken people who will likely end up back inside within three years of their release.
The Final Irony
As we get ready to head into another winter, the prisoners at MDC – including Keith Alan Raniere – can hope that things go better because Herman Quay is no longer the warden there.
That’s because the BOP gave him a bonus and promoted him after last February’s fiasco.