By Richard Luthmann
The Department of Justice wants defendants to take pleas. It’s as simple as that. They do not want trials, they want pleas.
The Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) is designed to help the DOJ get what it wants.
The plan is blatant and obvious. The MDC is designed to wear down defendants who do not make bail. It is a slow torture, as a defendant waits the long months, and sometimes years, for their not-so-speedy federal trials.
Keep in mind that almost all residents of the MDC are defendants, who have not been convicted.
While the DOJ spouts the notion that they are committed to upholding that a defendant is innocent until he is proven guilty, they use the MDC to torture those supposedly innocent-until-proven- guilty defendants into pleading guilty.
They lock defendants in the highest level of security, equivalent, or worse than a United States Penitentiary.
Consider, the defendant awaiting trial is experiencing the worst prison conditions before conviction. It will get better as soon as he pleads guilty.
By punishing defendants before trial with sickening conditions, it does not take long for defendants to realize the quicker they stop pursuing their due process rights, and plead guilty, whether guilty or not, the faster they are out of that hell-hole jail and designated to a better prison facility.
Life at the MDC means minimal liberty. Most of the time, you are locked in your cell. On weekdays, you are let out in the morning at six, and on weekends, at 10:00 am.
Defendants at MDC are returned to their cells at about 3:30 pm for a 4 pm afternoon count. They remain in their cells for two hours, until about 5:30 pm, when they are let out again for dinner.
At about 9:30 pm, they return to the cells. Then there’s a count at 10 pm. After that, you are in for the night, locked in a cell until the guards open the doors in the morning.
On a good day, you get out of the cells. On a bad day, when there’s some power issue or gang fight, the building is locked down, and you’re in that cell for 24 hours a day. Lockdown could last for days and weeks.
I was at the MDC in January and February 2019, when a generator exploded, and inmates were locked down for weeks in sub-human conditions. There was no heat, no hot water, the venting systems were moldy and terrible, and no electricity.
Outside it was sub-zero freezing temperatures.
Leticia James, the Attorney General in the State of New York, came to see what was going on. I was there the day she toured the MDC.
She recognized me and came over to speak. I had known her for years from New York State politics. I remember giving her a huge hug and saying, “Tish, thank you so much for coming here. This means you’re going to shine a light on this because everyone in that building has gone through over a month’s worth of misery.”
It brought attention, yes. But the DOJ did not want to solve the problems.
Once Tish left, they heaved a sigh of relief and hoped she would not come back, for she has a reputation for caring about people. Tish zealously defends due process and does something about it, not seeing the innocent take plea deals because they were coerced or tortured into it. She is a rare and honest prosecutor who cares more about justice than conviction stats.
I wrote to New York Attorney Letitia James, “You gave me hope during a dark time in my life, and I will always be thankful.”
But as for the DOJ prosecutors, they probably danced for joy when the power went out, and people were almost freezing.
All the quicker, they will take plea deals.
I can’t tell you how many innocent defendants threw in the towel after the big freeze, locked in their cells, knowing that every other prison in America had heat, lights, and warm food.
And yes, it is true, the MDC is still in no better condition.
But that is not Leticia James’ fault. She brought attention to the conditions, and at least the public was put on notice. But she represents New York State. And in general, the public does not care.
The US DOJ runs the MDC. And they care. They care to make the MDC the worst it can be. It’s business.
And unlike James, a jewel among prosecutors, the DOJ prosecutors are not interested in due process, in giving a defendant a fair shot if he or she is innocent, and getting that result called justice.
The DOJ is interested in being known publicly as caring about justice and hoary due process. Privately, prosecutors want to win at any cost.
When I was at MDC, I knew guys there who I believed were innocent of the wildly inflated charges and some innocent of every charge.
I was one of them. I knew that if I had been on the outside and if my bail hadn’t been revoked based on a letter stating my political positions, I would have had a fighting chance to prove my innocence.
Most of them, including myself, took plea deals. It happens all the time. Innocent people in the federal system take plea deals.
The DOJ has the system down so they can pretend to respect due process and fool the public. In reality, the prosecutors want to win. This is why the DOJ routinely overcharges defendants. When they do that, the plea offer will look mighty good.
And this is why they punish defendants who exercise their right to trial. If the defendant loses, he gets punished far more harshly than if he took a plea deal.
And best of all, the prosecutors will fight to put a defendant in pretrial custody – exaggerating or outright lying about what they believe is the danger or flight risk.
For they know, if the defendant is in jail, it makes their job easier.
If the defendant is inside MDC, the institution will torture him, and the chance of him going to trial is slim, as long as they delay and torture.
Even if the defendant goes to trial, he will be physically broken from the bad food, no fresh air, no sunlight, mold, rats, and cockroaches. The horrible conditions of the MDC make it hard for a defendant to prepare for a trial.
They make it hard for attorneys to consult with clients. Delaying them, then putting them in a room with clients where mold and vermin seem to be coming out of the vents and clinging to the walls, where there may very well be Government listening devices.
Attorneys do not like to visit clients at MDC.
But the best part is that the DOJ will tell the public how dedicated they are to preserving the rights of defendants while making pretrial holding centers, like MDC, worse for innocent-until-proven-guilty defendants than the worst of their prisons.
If you think that is an accident – that the Brooklyn MDC is worse than maximum security prisons, and it has nothing to do with deliberate design, a torture plan meant to prompt plea deals – then you are the kind of person I want to discuss making a different kind of deal.
I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I would like to sell you cheaply.
Like the DOJ prosecutors say, once they get a guy into MDC, I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse.
Radio Personality “Texas Scott Johnson.”
Richard Luthmann is a writer, commentator, satirist, and investigative journalist with degrees from Columbia University and the University of Miami. Once a fixture in New York City and State politics, Luthmann is a recovering attorney who lives in Southwest Florida and a proud member of the National Writers Union.
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