Six weeks after her arrival at Rikers Island, an argument over who should clean a shower sent Candie Hailey to solitary confinement—known as "the bing." It was the first time, but it would not be the last. Of her first 29 months in jail, Hailey served about 27 alone in a 6-by-10-foot cell, with a bed, toilet, and a few books. And she had yet to be tried for any crime, let alone convicted. Among infractions that sent her to the bing: cursing at an officer and splashing the guard with toilet water (70 days), fighting (40 days), and disrespect of staff (30 days). At least eight times during her more than three-year incarceration, she was hospitalized after suicide attempts in solitary. Hailey had never been diagnosed with mental health issues before Rikers, but jail doctors soon found she had borderline character disorder, mood disorder, and anti-social personality disorder.
Hailey's stay at Rikers—detailed in official documents and hours of interviews—is a case study in solitary confinement and its consequences. Many criminal justice experts say officials too often rely on solitary, disregarding the effect on troubled inmates like Hailey. Long-term isolation can induce anxiety, depression, and anger, and studies have found a lack of medical and psychiatric care can make it worse. Hailey finally had her trial last May, with a verdict of not guilty, after spending 2 1/3 years in solitary. Since she was freed, she's been unable to regain custody of her children; fallen out with her family; and struggled to find employment and housing. She's tried to kill herself twice. "I think it all came from solitary confinement," she says. "I don't think I'll ever be normal again. ... My soul died but my body is alive." (Read more here.)