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Judge Furman blocks sending convicted drug offender to problematic Metropolitan Detention Center

05 Jan 2024, Jail News, by

Judge Furman denies a drug case defendant’s transfer to the Metropolitan Detention Center due to dreadful conditions and staffing shortages.

Judge Furman blocks sending convicted drug offender to problematic Metropolitan Detention Center - Inmate Lookup

On Wednesday, Judge Furman of the Federal District Court in Manhattan declined to order a man convicted in a drug case to be sent to the troubled federal jail in Brooklyn, the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC). Citing complaints of dreadful conditions, perpetual lockdowns, and severe staffing shortages.

Judge Jesse M. Furman emphasized in writing the importance of humane treatment for detainees and noted that at least two other judges had previously refused to send defendants to the MDC for similar reasons.

MDC has housed numerous individuals accused of organized crime, terrorism, fraud, and other high-profile cases. With a current population of over 1,500, most inmates are awaiting trial, while others, like the defendant in Judge Furman’s case, have been convicted and await sentencing.

The judge expressed concern over the severe shortage of correction officers at the MDC The facility is currently operating at only about 55 percent of its full staffing level, resulting in a 10-to-one ratio of prisoners to officers. The judge deemed this situation untenable.

Before Judge Furman, Gustavo Chavez, 70, pleaded guilty in November to possessing drugs containing fentanyl with the intent to distribute. He could now receive a sentence of up to 20 years.

While, under ordinary circumstances, Chavez, who had been free on bail, would have faced mandatory detention upon conviction due to the type of his crime, Judge Furman cited “exceptional reasons” to allow him to remain free until sentencing, given the deplorable conditions at the MDC.

Andrew J. Dalack, the lawyer representing Mr. Chavez, praised the judge’s decision as being well-considered and comprehensive.

Dalack emphasized the urgent need for the Justice Department to tackle the ongoing issue of understaffing, which is the root cause of these deplorable conditions. He proposed a straightforward solution: reducing the number of detainees, particularly individuals like Mr. Chavez who clearly do not pose any danger to the public or a flight risk.

The MDC became the primary federal detention center in New York City after the closure of its sister jail in Manhattan in 2021 due to poor conditions.

In a 19-page decision, Judge Furman highlighted longstanding problems at the MDC, including a power outage in 2019 during a polar vortex, leaving inmates without light or heat for a week. He noted the routinely reduced sentences given by judges due to the facility’s conditions.

The judge added that prosecutors no longer oppose or dispute the unacceptable state of affairs.

Judge Furman pointed out that MDC inmates spend an excessive amount of time on lockdown, restricting their access to visits, showers, calls, classes, or exercise. He described the practice of confining inmates to their cells as tantamount to solitary or near-solitary confinement, increasingly viewed as inhumane.

The judge stated that inmates at the MDC have been on lockdown for a significant portion, if not the entirety, of the past three weeks due to an assault on staff members. A defendant stated that he experienced a lockdown for 137 days, which accounted for over half of the 245 days he spent at the facility.

Judge Furman called attention to the jail’s notorious delays in providing necessary medical and mental health treatment to inmates, citing a case where an order to transport an inmate for cheek surgery was defied, resulting in the need to re-break the cheek due to improper healing.

Judge Furman concluded by pointing out the irony that the federal government, responsible for the Metropolitan Detention Center, sought to transfer control of Rikers Island away from the city while failing to address issues within its own facility.

The judge noted that, despite the executive branch’s failure to tend to its own house, it has sought the appointment of an outside receiver to address the unsafe, dangerous, and chaotic conditions in New York City‘s jail system.