BROOKLYN (CN) — The judge overseeing a mediation over conditions at a Brooklyn jail said the parties must work quickly to adjust to the news that the facility will absorb hundreds of detainees as early as October, when the Manhattan detention center where Jeffrey Epstein died is scheduled to close.
Chief U.S. District Judge Margo K. Brodie in Brooklyn said she learned Thursday morning that the Federal Bureau of Prisons plans to close the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan in order to improve conditions at the aging facility. The development was first reported by the New York Daily News.
After the Bureau of Prisons “assessed steps necessary to improve conditions at the Metropolitan Correctional Center,” the Department of Justice “has decided to close the MCC, at least temporarily, until those issues have been resolved,” a spokesperson from the DOJ said in a statement. “Planning for the deactivation is under way, and we will have more updates as that process continues.”
The Manhattan center’s conditions gained national attention two years ago when billionaire Epstein was found dead in his cell as he awaited trial for child sex trafficking charges. Reports of vermin like roaches and rats, filthy showers, spilling raw sewage, and poor temperature control had plagued the jail for years before that.
The majority of the 200-plus detainees at the Manhattan facility are expected to be moved to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, even as the outer borough facility grapples with its own safety and health issues.
It was in 2019 that an electrical fire caused the Brooklyn facility to lose power, leaving detainees without lights or heat for days in the dead of winter, as a polar vortex swept the American east.
Following the power outage, the Federal Defenders of New York filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of New York, accusing the Bureau of Prison of “false statements and stonewalling.”
“BOP officials were largely non-responsive,” the 11-page complaint reads. “They refused to provide detailed or accurate information about the conditions at MDC or the reasons that legal visitations were cancelled.”
After the Second Circuit reversed the suit’s dismissal and remanded it to the district court, former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, now a partner at the firm Paul, Weiss, was appointed to mediate the matter.
During a remote status conference on Friday, Lynch said her team has been conducting “stress tests” at the facility to better understand how to ease issues like delayed scheduling of in-person visits. She said the parties should anticipate that moving inmates to the Brooklyn facility will pose new challenges.
“This will, of course, create its own ‘stress test,’ separate and apart from the ones that we have been using,” she said.
Lynch called the Manhattan jail closure “very much new news,” and said she “learned of it when everyone else did yesterday afternoon.”
“This is very, very much a work in progress,” Lynch said, noting that a planned call with the warden of the MDC next week will go over issues concerning the ongoing mediation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth D. Eichenholtz, representing the Bureau of Prisons, acknowledged that the transfer will “bring a host of issues” needing to be worked out in mediation. Staff in Brooklyn were installing additional video and phone units “as we speak," he said.
“It was one of the first things I learned about in my office,” Eichenholtz said, “when this information trickled down to me.”
“What I don't have today, unfortunately, is much detail beyond that,” he said
Attorney Jenna Dabbs of the firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink represents the Federal Defenders of New York, and said she was surprised to hear that the other parties didn’t have a heads up.