In our last post, we recounted some of the “inside scoops” we’ve been able to obtain over the past couple of years regarding Keith Raniere’s status at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, NY.
Many of our reports involved events that undoubtedly frustrated and/or humiliated a man whose every whim used to be fulfilled without him even needing to ask: e.g., having numerous pairs of eyeglasses broken or stolen; being mocked and called silly names by fellow prisoners as well as guards; and being laughed at and harassed because of his inability or unwillingness to defend himself.
Other reports exposed some of the dangers that exist for every prisoner in a place like MDC: the total lack of access to sunlight; the filthy and disease-ridden conditions; the beat-downs; the substandard medical treatment; the low-quality food; etc.
Today, however, our “inside report” is about a facility – and a prison administration – that is out-of-control. And about federal lawyers who are appearing before a federal judge in an ongoing case – and presenting her with documents and records that are full of exaggerations, misrepresentations, and outright lies.
MDC Brooklyn Is Not a Regular Prison
It’s very name delineates what type of facility MDC is (There are several other “MDCs” scattered throughout the U.S.: Albuquerque, Los Angeles, etc.).
In the Bureau of Prisons jargon, MDC is an “administrative facility” – which means that it has a “special mission”.
The Brooklyn MDC’s “special mission” is to hold prisoners who have not yet been arraigned – or who have been denied bail and are awaiting trial. Those types of prisoners make up about 90% of its prisoner population.
The other 10% is composed of prisoners who have been convicted but not yet sentenced (like Keith Raniere) – and a group called “cadres” who are inmates who are assigned to various maintenance and operational jobs in the facility (The cadres are a mix of people serving short-term sentences – and others who are nearing the end of long-term sentences).
The key point in all this is that the vast majority of prisoners at MDC Brooklyn are only there for a short time. While some cadres may be there for a few years, most of the pre-trial and pre-sentence prisoners are there for less than a year.
MDC Brooklyn Has a Long History of Being Substandard
The original MDC Brooklyn building – which opened in the early 1990s – was a converted warehouse that was designed to hold 1,000 inmates who were awaiting arraignment or trial in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. It was designated as the “East Tower”.
A second facility was added in 1999 to house inmates who had already been tried or pleaded guilty – and who were awaiting sentencing and assignment to a permanent facility. It was designated as the “West Tower”.
With both facilities operating, the prisoner population at MDC Brooklyn swelled to almost 3,000 – which made it the largest detention center in the U.S. The two towers operated independently of one another but were connected via an underground tunnel that had numerous “checkpoints” along the way.
But things were never quite right at the original facility. The HVAC system was always a problem because it basically only had two modes: “On” and “Off”. That meant that the place was so cold in the summer that prisoners had to wear thermal underwear and multiple layers of clothes 24/7 – and so warm in the winter that prisoners often stripped down to their underwear and t-shirts.
Eventually, MDC closed the original facility – and consolidated the remaining 1,600 prisoners and 100 cadres into the West Tower (A small group of female prisoners is still housed in a dormitory-like setting in the East Tower). That is where Keith Raniere has been housed since he showed up there in April 2018.
Winter 2019 at MDC Brooklyn Was Brutal
Throughout January and February 2019, more than 1,600 inmates were kept in the West Tower with little to no heat and power for more than a week.
Inmates who protested the harsh conditions by non-violent disobedience and hunger strikes were severely punished for their actions.
According to a report in The Intercept: “On all three of those housing units where men collectively refused food, jail staff shut off the valves to the toilets in all of the cells, according to accounts relayed to lawyers. Confined to their cells on lockdown, deprived of light, the men on these units now found themselves shivering on their bunks with their heads inches from toilet bowls nearly overflowing with festering feces”.
During one of the many lawsuits that followed the heat and power outage, Cameron Lindsay – a former Warden at the facility – testified that “MDC (Brooklyn) was one of the most troubled, if not the most troubled facility in the Bureau of Prisons”.
COVID-19 Pandemic Has Made MDC Brooklyn “ a Hellhole”
As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading throughout New York City, MDC Brooklyn went into full lock-down mode.
It also exacerbated the situation by limiting the amount of soap and toilet paper it provided to inmates – and stopped sanitizing common areas throughout the building.
And it topped it off by not acquiring COVID-19 test kits – and refusing to take symptomatic prisoners out for testing because doing so “would be too dangerous” (As of April 30th, only thirteen MDC Brooklyn prisoners had been administered a COVID-19 test).
Despite a directive from U.S. Attorney General William Barr to the contrary, MDC Brooklyn also refused to release those inmates who were found to meet the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) established criteria for determining who is “at-risk” of contracting COVID-19.
According to a lawsuit that was filed by the Federal Defenders of New York, although 537 prisoners at MDC Brooklyn meet the CDC’s “at-risk” criteria, not one of those prisoners has been released to home confinement.
Meanwhile, MDC has continued to admit new prisoners who had “report dates” in April and May. Although they quarantine these new admissions upon their arrival, these new prisoners generally end up getting placed in General Population units within a few days after they arrive at MDC.
MDC officials claim that they are quarantining any inmates who have displayed symptoms of the disease. But one MDC guard has testified that inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 are being transferred out of quarantine and back into General Population units “only days after they’ve tested positive”.
Rhonda Barnwell, the vice president of the union that represents MDC guards, raised serious questions about that practice in her April 9th email to the MDC Brooklyn Warden:
“Why do we have 2 inmates who tested positive on regular housing units J-73 and G-43?” Barnwell wrote in her email, referring to cell blocks within the jail, which each hold about 70 men. “These inmates were released to General Population even before 7 days of quarantine”.
Officials at the prison did not respond to Barnwell’s inquiry.
Barnwell’s email also describes several other dangerous public health failures at the prison. Among her allegations are the following: (a) Staff who have been in direct contact with incarcerated people who have tested positive – or who are symptomatic – are not being quarantined; and (b) When staff members at MDC themselves are diagnosed with COVID-19, other staff who have been in direct contact with them are not even notified, much less quarantined.
Anthony Sanon, the president of the guards’ union, has also complained about the facility’s unwillingness to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the guards. “I’ve been pleading with the agency to give us N95 masks — they have close to 3,000 in the institution but they’re keeping them in locked closets. That’s absurd. To put the lives of these men and women sworn to protect the community is a crime itself. Instead, they’re giving us regular surgical masks. They’re throwing us into ground zero, with zero protection”.
Medical Expert Predicts Major Outbreak of COVID-19 at MDC Brooklyn
According to a report that was filed by Dr. Homer Venters, a medical expert who toured the facility on April 23rd, staff at MDC Brooklyn are routinely destroying medical records as part of a deliberate effort to obscure the number of incarcerated people infected with the coronavirus and to avoid providing them adequate care.
Dr. Venters went on to state in his report that it is highly likely that there will be a major outbreak of COVID-19 cases at MDC.
“The net effect of these failings is that individuals within the MDC will be infected with COVID-19 and they will be identified at a dangerously late stage of infection. I am concerned that there may be a significant number of COVID-19 cases that are undetected, both propelling the pace of the outbreak within the MDC – and because the MDC is not a closed system – the larger community. The MDC’s failures, described in detail below, represent gross deviations from adherence to correctional standards of care and CDC guidance. All the measures that I recommend are critical to finding and caring for individuals who are sick, and answering the question of how widespread the virus is in the facility”.
See Dr. Venters’ full report here: Document 72-1 – Facility Evaluation – Metropolitan detention Center COVID-19 Response (04.30.2020)
Our Inside Report Reveals Even More Abuses at MDC Brooklyn
Thus far, the attorneys for the Federal Defenders of New York have had difficulty in documenting everything that’s going on at MDC Brooklyn these days. That’s because the prison has done a very good job of keeping the named plaintiffs in their lawsuit isolated from other prisoners.
But our sources are not restricted in that way – and according to them, here’s what is going on there now.
The prison has completely shifted protocols – and living arrangements – over the course of the past month.
The “high security” prisoners who were previously kept away from one another are now being housed together – a situation that has become necessary because of the shortage of guards at the facility.
Meanwhile, the cells that used to be inhabited by those “high risk” prisoners are being used to warehouse “lower risk” prisoners.
That’s why Keith Raniere is now being housed with three other prisoners in a cell that was designed to hold a maximum of two prisoners.
Major water problems have occurred on several occasions – some of which dumped as much as 4-feet of water into some cells over a 2-day period (YOU READ THAT CORRECTLY: 4 FEET). Everything in those cells was pretty much destroyed as prisoners climbed up to the upper bunks to escape from the flooding.
Many of the prisoners who had been placed in MDC’s Health Ward because they displayed COVID-19 symptoms were temporarily moved out – under cover of darkness – to other federal prisons so that the federal attorneys can report low numbers of COVID-19 cases at MDC to the judge who is presiding over the federal lawsuit. Some of these “temporary transfers” have lasted for as long as a month.
Other prisoners with much more severe symptoms have been quietly transferred to hospitals and put on ventilators (Families of those patients are not being informed of these transfers). Once again, this is a tactic that allows the federal attorneys to report low numbers of prisoners with COVID-19 to the judge.
Water has been periodically shut off to several units for as long as 12-hours at a time – and the entire ventilation system was shut down for more than a week.
Throughout most of this time, all the prisoners at MDC have been on full lockdown or partial lockdown. Either way, they’ve been spending most of their time in their cells – and only occasionally let out to make phone calls or send and receive emails (It is not known if MDC is intercepting emails that contain reports of what’s actually going on inside the facility – but if so, it wouldn’t be the first time that prison officials have used that tactic to stifle the truth from getting out).
Food service has been sporadic – with the majority of meals being served cold.
And commissary has been unavailable for weeks at a time.
No Human Being Deserves to Be Treated Like This
I’ve been pretty clear over the years that I have no respect whatsoever for Keith Raniere.
And I’ve also made it clear that I think a life sentence would be totally appropriate in his case.
And so it is that I have little sympathy for what he’s going through at MDC.
But there are hundreds of other inmates at MDC Brooklyn who are being subjected to the same cruel and inhumane treatment as Raniere – and that’s just not right.
Refusing to actually administer COVID-19 tests to inmates?
Destroying medical records?
Surreptitiously moving around infected prisoners to other locations so they won’t be counted as MDC cases?
Failing to report major systems problems in the facility?
MDC Brooklyn is totally out of control – and needs to be shut down.
Nothing less will do here…