News Release

NACDL Condemns Inhumane Conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn

Washington, DC (Jan. 7, 2022) – The Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center subjects people awaiting trial to inhumane and dangerous pandemic conditions. MDC Brooklyn has the highest number of COVID-19 positive detainees in the nation – more than 15% of the population tested positive as of January 5, 2022, including, remarkably, approximately half of the women detainees. The COVID outbreak has been particularly severe among women detainees because MDC Brooklyn houses women in an open dorm with shared bathrooms and meal spaces making social distancing impossible. Consequently, many women have been infected and, despite experiencing severe symptoms, including vomiting and chills, MDC Brooklyn denies them basic care. Personal accounts from women at MDC Brooklyn describe an alarming failure to follow basic health protocols, serious lapses in food safety, and meals constituting cruel and unusual punishment. The conditions also endanger staff compelled to work in this environment. The Federal Defenders of New York have been advocating for the affected women and are deeply concerned for their welfare.

The abusive conditions at MDC Brooklyn coincide in time with the resignation of the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") Director Michael Carvajal amid increasing scrutiny over his leadership. These conditions are, unfortunately, the continuation of long-term failures to provide humane conditions. In fact, in June 2016, the National Association of Women Judges’ Women in Prison Committee found that conditions for women at MDC Brooklyn were unconscionable and had been so for years, as later exemplified by the conviction of three corrections officers, including two BOP lieutenants, in 2017 of sexual abuse of women detainees at MDC Brooklyn. In April 2021, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon found that a woman at MDC Brooklyn was subjected to conditions "as disgusting, inhuman as anything I've heard about any Colombian prison, but more so because we're supposed to be better than that."

NACDL President Martín Antonio Sabelli issued the following statement:

"The criminal legal system routinely and excessively imprisons people awaiting trial despite the presumption of innocence and despite the well-documented capacity to release and monitor people while awaiting trial. Now that COVID is surging across the nation and in our jails and prisons – and trials are on hold in many courts – the Bureau of Prisons must protect people in its care from inhumane and dangerous conditions which ensure the spread of COVID inside detention facilities and beyond the walls of these facilities given necessary contact with staff and visitors including their constitutionally-required legal counsel. NACDL calls on the Biden Administration to appoint a BOP Director who will protect people entrusted to the care of the Bureau of Prisons by immediately establishing necessary health and safety protocols and standards. COVID kills."

NACDL Board Member Richard D. Willstater added:

"As the pandemic enters a new, dangerous phase, and as Winter progresses, the worsening abuse of pretrial detainees is unconscionable. Because the women of MDC Brooklyn are our clients or the clients of our colleagues, and are in our care, it is our responsibility as attorneys to raise their concerns to the public, to Congress and to the Department of Justice. Bringing to light these facts will, we hope, shame those responsible into improving the conditions of confinement to at least some level of decency."


Kate Holden, Public Affairs and Communications Associate (202) 465-7624 or

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.

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