Criminal Justice

Federal judge complains that New York’s federal detention facilities 'are run by morons'

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U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon of the Southern District of New York reluctantly sentenced a drug conspiracy defendant to the mandatory minimum of five years in prison last month, as she complained about the "inhuman" conditions that the woman had to endure at federal detention facilities in New York City.

The Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan and the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn “are run by morons,” McMahon complained during the April 29 hearing, report the Washington Post and the New York Daily News.

The New York Daily News published transcripts (here and here) of remarks by McMahon and the defendant, Tiffany Days, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess methylenedioxy-methamphetamine and cocaine.

“It is the finding of this court,” McMahon said, “that the conditions to which [Days] was subjected are as disgusting, inhuman as anything I’ve heard about [in] any Colombian prison, but more so because we’re supposed to be better than that.”

Days was forced to spend 75 days in solitary confinement after she contracted COVID-19, her lawyer told McMahon. She also spent time in prison lockdowns after convicted sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein killed himself in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, after a gun was found and after protests over George Floyd’s May 2020 death.

During lockdowns, showers were infrequent or nonexistent, inmates were denied phones and computers, and recreation time was banned, Days said.

Days also told of facilities that were so cold that her tears froze on her face, moldy food, sandwiches that were so frozen they hurt her teeth, and filthy conditions.

“My roommates were mice,” Days said. “They would come out of large holes in the wall that were as big as tennis balls, jumping around, running around the cells, just playing on the vents.”

“I also survived the disgusting feces flood that we were actually told to clean with our own hands. It was humiliating,” Days said. “Floating, dead water bugs, mice, chunks of defecation coming out of the pipes and urine-filled water gushing all through the area. The water was as high as my ankles, and the smell was as bad. It was so bad, the inmates were vomiting due to nausea. Chunks of feces. And officers telling us that we had to clean it and clean it quick because lunch was on the way.”

McMahon said the thing that made her the craziest during the five years that she was chief judge “was my complete and utter inability to do anything meaningful about the conditions” at the federal detention facilities in New York City, which “are run by morons.”

Wardens repeatedly cycle through the facilities, she said, “never staying for longer than a few months or even a year. So there is no continuity, there is no leadership, there is no ability to get anything done. They lurch from crisis to crisis, from the gun smuggling to Jeffrey Epstein. … There is no excuse for the conditions. … You shouldn’t have to suffer for the incompetence of the United States Department of Justice and its subsidiary agency, the Bureau of Prisons.”

The Bureau of Prisons told the New York Daily News that its prisons are accredited by groups reviewing sanitation, hygiene and health care.

“The Bureau of Prisons takes seriously our duty to protect the individuals entrusted in our custody, as well as maintain the safety of correctional staff and the community,” the bureau said.

See also: “Many federal inmates in Brooklyn are largely without heat for a week; suit claims lack of lawyer access”

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