SUNSET PARK, Brooklyn (WABC) -- New York politicians and candidates held a rally outside of the MDC-Brooklyn detention center Tuesday to call on the federal government to implement strong oversight measures.
The facility in Sunset Park is the largest federal pre-trial detention center in the United States, and those in attendance said systematic dysfunction has resulted in years of unacceptable conditions of confinement for detainees, denial of basic necessities, and inadequate access to counsel and legal materials.
"You're locked down in a cell for 23 hours a day with nothing to do than to deal with your own emotions," said Emmanuel Vasquez, who was formerly incarcerated at the facility. "That's fairly inhumane to me."
City Comptroller Brad Lander and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams were joined by 10th District Congressional candidates Carlina Rivera, Yuh-Line Niou, Dan Goldman and Rep. Mondaire Jones to call on Attorney General Merrick Garland and Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters to make immediate reforms.
Concerns include four deaths by suicide in the last two years, defendants who can be detained up to four years for waiting for trial, and it's been hard to retain wardens, who rarely stay a year.
There was also a 2019 power outage in the dead of winter that lasted a week.
"As in the case at Rikers...this is what happens when we lock people up but don't pay attention to their human rights," Lander said.
The candidates all signed an urgent letter addressed to the DOJ and the BOP demanding that:
--Elected officials and federal judges be authorized to make unscheduled visits to MDC Brooklyn to ensure transparency and accountability
--Every staff member entering the facility undergo a thorough screen for drugs, weapons and cell phones with no exceptions
--Medical staffing be increased to meet the needs of this population and the length of time detained, and that the BOP collaborate with a local medical school or non-profit to increase the quality of providers, as the NY Department of Corrections did on Rikers Island
--Every detainee must be provided with healthy, sufficient food every day
--Director Peters hold quarterly meetings with all the stakeholders affected in order to ensure that reforms are meaningfully and consistently implemented
Joining in the demands were the Federal Defenders of New York, Inc.; the New York Council of Defense Lawyers; Representatives of the Criminal Justice Act Panel in the SDNY and EDNY; the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; and the New York Criminal Bar Association.
"Whether it's lack of medical care, constant lockdowns, hygiene care that's just disgusting, a lack of access counsel and to the evidence in their cases, I can go and on," Federal Defenders Executive Director David Patton said. "And it hasn't mattered who the attorney general is, or who the director of the Bureau of Prisons is, they haven't been held accountable across administrations."