ADVOCATES PROTEST INHUMANE CONDITION AT NEW YORK CITY JAILS DURING SUMMER HEATWAVE

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[Correction News]
Activist Darren Mack: “As long as anybody is detained or incarcerated in this country, we must fight to guarantee they are not trapped in inhumane, torturous conditions."
Photo: Twitter\Darren Mack

Yesterday, formerly incarcerated advocates rallied outside of the Brooklyn House of Detention led by Jails Action Coalition, JustLeadershipUSA and the #CLOSErikers campaign, with participation from VOCAL-NY, the Urban Justice Center’s Mental Health Project, Brooklyn Defender Services and concerned New Yorkers.

The rally was in response to a report released by the Board of Correction last week on New York City jail conditions, following Mayor de Blasio’s declared heat emergency over the weekend of Friday, July 19. The Board of Correction, New York City’s independent jail oversight body, learned what directly impacted communities and advocates already knew: the conditions of New York City’s existing jails are horrific and inhumane.

The report revealed that on July 19, the Department of CorrectionS reported to the Board of Corrections that, in advance of the heat emergency, they had taken precautions to ensure that heat-sensitive people were in air-conditioned units. However, on July 21, at least 140 people who were deemed heat-sensitive by Correctional Health Services (CHS), were detained in non-air-conditioned areas. (People are considered heat-sensitive when medical staff deem them at risk for heat-related illness.)

In the three jails toured, the Board of Correction found that facilities’ leadership did not have the list of heat-sensitive people for July 19-21 in order to accommodate them per the board’s instructions.

Advocates are calling on Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Correction to act urgently to protect the health and safety of people in New York City jails in hot weather and especially during heatwaves.

Their brief statements follow:

“The Jails Action Coalition applauds the New York City oversight Board of Correction (BOC) for releasing their independent report on extreme heat, which highlighted many dangerous health and safety conditions for people held in custody and working in New York City jails," said Ms. V, organizer, New York City Jails Action Coalition (JAC). "At a time when criminal justice reform and human rights are ongoing topics in most households, we must remember to advocate for those currently held within the system. Our voices will be heard because as a coalition we speak for those unseen and unheard while detained behind correctional walls.” 

“As long as anybody is detained or incarcerated in this country, we must fight to guarantee they are not trapped in inhumane, torturous conditions. Hundreds of human beings are held in inhumane conditions here for days, weeks, months, and sometimes years. We must improve conditions. We are human beings," said Darren Mack, director of Community Engagement with JustLeadershipUSA and the #CLOSErikers campaign.

“We call on Mayor de Blasio and the DOC to provide incarcerated people with humane conditions and ensure their health and safety as the heat waves continue. If you believe like we believe that every person who is detained deserves to be treated like a human being tweet to the Brian Lehrer Show this Friday on #AsktheMayor — ask him what he has done since the heatwave and what he plans to do to ensure people are safe.”

“With the scorching heat only threatening to get worse, we are extremely concerned about serious risks to people at Rikers and in other City jails," said Kelsey De Avila, project director of Jail Services. "Most incarcerated people are without air conditioning and the limited number of fans are only in the day rooms, leaving people to swelter, particularly while in their cells.

"DOC is not providing appropriate summer clothes to many of our clients. People with medical needs have reported feeling nauseous and dizzy. Government has a constitutional obligation to protect the health and safety of people in jail. Yet, much like this past winter’s power outage which left people at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center on lockdown without heat and hot water amidst frigid temperatures, DOC is apparently woefully unprepared for this heatwave. We call on Mayor de Blasio and DOC Commissioner Cynthia Brann to take immediate action to protect people in the City’s custody from dangerous heat conditions.”

“The reports of conditions at the Brooklyn House of Detention are disturbing and completely unacceptable," said Councilmember Stephen Levin. "This will not be the last heat wave New York sees this summer, but we have yet to see adequate measures put in place to address sweltering temperatures inside the detention center. The need is urgent; this is about people’s safety and basic wellbeing. These reports also highlight what communities across New York have been saying for years – that the conditions inside our city’s jails are outdated and inhumane. We need to close Rikers and demolish the Brooklyn House of Detention as soon as possible. We cannot delay when people’s lives are on the line.”

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