News Release

Nation’s Criminal Defense Bar Demands Immediate and Comprehensive Investigation into the Emergence and Handling of the ‘Inhumane and Cruel’ Conditions at the Federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn

Washington, DC (Feb. 4, 2019) – For the better part of a week, people being held in the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), the federal jail in Brooklyn, New York, housing more than 1,600 people in federal custody, were forced into lockdown in their cells without light and without heat, all during an outbreak of frigid weather. It has been reported that the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the agency within the Department of Justice (DOJ) responsible for nation’s federal jails and prisons, initially issued an emailed statement denying that what they called a “partial power outage” had affected heat and hot water in individuals’ cells. A spokesperson for Warden Herman Quay made the same initial claim concerning heat and hot water. Defense lawyers and union leaders for the facility’s employees disputed those claims.

Thereafter, as David E. Patton, who heads the federal defender office in New York, told the New York Times, “Not only have the conditions been disgraceful but we have peppered them with questions and we get nothing but silence….[t]hey might say, ‘an incident occurred,’ or ‘visiting is canceled’ but when we follow-up to ask if people have heat, hot water, or adequate access to their families or attorneys, they stonewall us.” Indeed, the Federal Defenders of New York was forced to get a court order simply to gain entry to the facility on Friday. It has also been reported that numerous elected officials were finally able to visit the facility over the weekend, and their accounts were also disturbing. That same reporting revealed that the federal jail even rejected local officials’ offer of emergency electrical generators.

“The conditions under which these human beings have been forced to live for more than a week, and during absolutely frigid weather, are truly inhumane and cruel. Indeed, it shocks the conscience to think that more than 1,600 people in the custody of the American government could be allowed to endure this,” said National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) President Drew Findling. “NACDL demands an immediate and comprehensive investigation by the Department of Justice into the emergence and handling of this crisis. While power outages happen, so do contingency plans to address such events. Instead, what we bear witness to in Brooklyn, New York, appears consistent with a growing culture of cruelty and indifference to human suffering against which we all must be vigilant. The handling of this situation at MDC was self-evidently horrific and nightmarish. The thing truly does speak for itself. What we need now is a thorough and ultimately public investigation of this entire episode so that we can make sure this never happens again in the United States of America.”

“NACDL applauds the defense lawyers and, in particular, the Federal Defenders of New York for their tenacious efforts in fighting for basic, humane conditions for these individuals,” Findling added.

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Ivan Dominguez, NACDL Senior Director of Public Affairs and Communications, (202) 465-7662 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 justice system.