The Department of Justice will close an infamous federal jail in Lower Manhattan, at least temporarily, in an effort to address brutal and decrepit conditions that have long plagued the facility.
The Metropolitan Correctional Center, located just two blocks from City Hall, will shutter as soon as October, according to federal officials. Most of the jail’s roughly 250 detainees — down from an average population of around 600 — are expected to be transferred Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, another highly troubled federal facility.
Human rights experts, public defenders, and judges have long criticized the MCC for exposing defendants to harrowing conditions, including filth, vermin, a lack of medical care, and violence at the hands of guards. Administrators at the jail have also been accused of covering up the death of inmates in their custody.
Those long-standing problems gained international attention two years ago, after guards at the facility failed to properly monitor financier Jeffrey Epstein, who committed suicide in his cell while facing sex trafficking charges.
In addition to high-profile detainees — including alleged terrorists and El Chapo — the jail has housed hundreds of people accused of lower-level federal offenses, many of whom are incarcerated for up to a year or more. Nearly all of the jail’s detainees have been charged but not convicted with a crime.
In a statement, the Justice Department said the coming closure was meant to “address the issues at MCC NY as quickly and efficiently as possible.” The statement did not say whether or not the jail would reopen.
The decision comes just weeks after Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco visited the Manhattan lockup. In May, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen McMahon harshly criticized the Bureau of Prisons’ oversight of both of New York City’s federal jails, saying that the facilities were “run by morons.”
While David Patton, the attorney in chief at Federal Defenders of New York, praised the decision to shutter the Manhattan jail, he raised concerns about moving detainees to the federal facility in Brooklyn, Metropolitan Detention Center.
“A lot of the really serious issues at the MCC that have been longstanding are the same issues at the MDC, where they are now putting hundreds of additional people,” Patton said on Friday. “The facilities are in disrepair, they’re unsanitary and cramped, they have a long history of being severely understaffed, both in terms of correction officers and perhaps most importantly medical staff.”
In early 2019, after a fire knocked out power at the Brooklyn jail, inmates went without heat and electricity for a week as temperatures plunged below freezing. More recently, coronavirus has spread throughout the MDC, leading to the death of at least one detainee.