The two big federal jails in Manhattan and Brooklyn that together hold about 1,800 men and women have not been allowing attorneys to visit clients as regularly as they did prior to the partial federal government shutdown, according to public defenders.
David Patton, Executive Director of the Federal Defenders of New York, said the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn’s South Slope has been most heavily affected. He claimed there have been seven days since January 4th when legal visiting hours were shut down or delayed in Brooklyn, and three days when the same thing happened at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan.
"Attorney visitation has been sporadic and often shut down or canceled which means that attorneys can't meet with their clients," he explained. "Keep in mind these are pretrial detainees, so the people being housed in these detention centers, most of them have not been convicted of anything. Their cases are pending and so meeting with their lawyers to review evidence to discuss options in their case is vital."
Patton also said that some inmates have complained about not getting medications and that family visits have also been curtailed, too, leading a few inmates in Manhattan to go on a hunger strike. He did not have an exact number, but said they were all in one unit.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Correctional Center, who did not want to be identified, said most of the 93 inmates in one unit skipped lunch on Monday to protest a halt in social visits, but that they resumed eating at dinner after staffers explained to them that family visits were canceled because two elevators broke down. He said the elevators are now in the process of being repaired for family and friends.
He also said there was only one day, not three, when attorney visits at MCC were curtailed—and only for part of the day. But he said that wasn’t because of the shutdown. He said this happens occasionally because staffing levels have never been sufficient and that absentee rates have not increased since the shutdown started.
Patton also said clients claim medication is not being provided regularly at MCC because of the shutdown, and he provided a transcript from a recent court hearing where a prosecutor also complained of the problem. The MCC spokesman denied this.
Patton claimed social and legal visits have both been curtailed at MDC in Brooklyn. He shared a January 14th email from Adam Johnson, an MCC attorney who wrote about the facility across the river: "Due to staff shortages secondary to the shutdown, legal visiting at MDC Brooklyn is currently suspended today, January 14, 2018.” The email added, "We regret the inconvenience and will notify you immediately once visiting resumes."
Another federal public defender told the New York Times, which first reported the story, that her client and others are participating in a hunger strike inside MCC.
“They have already refused a meal—I believe they refused breakfast and lunch,” attorney Sarah Baumgartel told the paper.
A spokesperson at the Brooklyn facility did not respond to questions about changes in legal and family visits.
The federal Bureau of Prisons did write back about MCC in Manhattan: "Visiting has been affected by problems with the elevators; they are working to resolve the issue as soon as practicable. The delivery of medications has not been affected."