Turmoil in short-staffed NY jail

The jail, known as the Metropolitan Correctional Centre or MCC, is one of the most important detention centres in the federal prison system.
The jail, known as the Metropolitan Correctional Centre or MCC, is one of the most important detention centres in the federal prison system.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • The government shutdown is causing turmoil at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre, a high-security federal jail in Manhattan, where some prisoners went on a hunger strike on Monday after family visits were cancelled for a second week because of staffing shortages, defence lawyers said.

The jail is one of the most important detention centres in the federal prison system, housing about 800 detainees.

Inmates have included accused terrorists, prominent white-collar criminals and organised crime figures such as the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo.

"They have already refused a meal - I believe they refused breakfast and lunch," said Ms Sarah Baumgartel, a federal public defender.

The shutdown has also affected the prescribing and dispensing of medication to some prisoners in the jail.

Ms Serene Gregg, president of a local branch of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents about 200 correctional workers and other staff at the jail, said the government shutdown had inflamed problems at an already severely short-staffed jail.

Beyond prisoners' social visits, the shutdown is also affecting how criminal justice is administered in the federal courts in New York. For instance, lawyers have been turned away from visiting their clients at a federal jail in Brooklyn.

 
 

Mr David Patton, head of the federal defender office, said that as a result of the restrictions, his office was looking into potential legal remedies, including the possibility of making new bail requests for inmates. The office represents thousands of indigent defendants.

Mr Edward Friedland, a spokesman for the Manhattan federal court, said: "The court is obviously concerned with the impact that the shutdown is having on defence lawyers' ability to see their clients."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2019, with the headline 'Turmoil in short-staffed NY jail'. Print Edition | Subscribe