Female detainees at the Metropolitan Correctional Center say they're being forced to clean up a flood of raw sewage that was unleashed on their cells and common areas this morning—the latest sign of deteriorating conditions at the notorious federal jail in Lower Manhattan.
The facility, which came under widespread scrutiny following Jeffrey Epstein's death in custody earlier this month, has prohibited attorneys from visiting their clients for three straight days. According to David Patton, executive director of Federal Defenders of New York, jail officials initially blamed staffing shortages for this weekend's cancellations, before saying that a plumbing issue on Monday had knocked out elevator access.
But detainees who reached their public defenders by phone say the situation is worse than MCC is letting on. They allege that pipes are spewing feces throughout the women's side of the jail, including in many cells, and that correction officers have threatened to withhold meals from female detainees who do not help clean up the mess.
"I’m very concerned about the lack of protective gear—especially for our clients with medical issues," said Patton.
One woman told her attorney that "it smells like the gates of hell" in her unit. Attorneys said that visitation was reopened at around 3 p.m. on Monday, though the extent of the flooding remains unclear.
The federal jail has a population of roughly 760 people—nearly twice the number it was originally built to accommodate—the vast majority of which have not yet been convicted of a crime. Those held at the facility say they are routinely subjected to inhumane conditions, including vermin infestations, substandard medical care, and violence at the hands of guards.
Susan Kellman, who has represented clients at MCC for roughly three decades, recently noted that conditions there are “the worst that it’s ever been.” This past spring, a detainee at MCC wrote Gothamist complaining that “toilet waste and feces were all over the floors of all the cells, common area, and other departments on the floor and the female inmates were the ones who had to clean it all up without proper equipment."
Earlier this month, the jail came under sharp criticism for its botched oversight of Jeffrey Epstein, who took his own life in custody just weeks after being placed on suicide watch. Attorney General William Barr said that the Department of Justice had found "serious irregularities," including chronic staffing shortages at the facility.
Patton told Gothamist that the latest sewage issue is indicative of larger problems at MCC, proof that "it's a real mess and needs a complete overhaul."
"I'm glad that the Epstein brought attention to what's going on there," he added. "I'm hoping people continue to pay attention to what the other 700-plus inmates are going through."
A spokesperson for the Bureau of Prisons did not respond to a request for comment.