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Freed After Years in Solitary, Woman Faces Jailhouse Charges

  • Associated Press

FILE - In this July 23, 2015 file photo, Candie Hailey, center, speaks during a monthly rally calling for the end of solitary confinement in New York.

FILE - In this July 23, 2015 file photo, Candie Hailey, center, speaks during a monthly rally calling for the end of solitary confinement in New York.

A New York City woman who spent more than three years on Rikers Island before her trial and served much of it in solitary confinement before being acquitted by a jury last year will stand trial for criminal charges stemming from a jailhouse confrontation with guards.

Candie Hailey's chaotic Rikers stint and subsequent struggle to return to society was documented earlier this year by The Associated Press. She faces a felony charge of criminal mischief on Monday for breaking a metal chair used to scan inmates' body cavities for contraband in May 2013, according to an indictment.

Hailey, who was diagnosed with borderline character disorder, mood disorder and anti-social personality disorder at Rikers, could face up to seven years in prison if convicted. She also faces misdemeanor counts of harassment, obstructing government administration and assault.

"Candie has always maintained that her treatment at Rikers was horrible and these charges are an offshoot of horrible treatment that she received," said her attorney, Patrick Higgins.

Hailey, 32, had an extraordinarily tumultuous time at Rikers, according to interviews as well as medical and jail records obtained by the AP.

Of her first 29 months in jail, she served about 27 of them in 23-hour isolation for breaking jailhouse rules and was frequently involved in confrontations and scuffles with guards. She regularly hurt herself by banging her head against her cell wall or cutting at her wrists with broken light fixtures. And at least eight times during her time in solitary she was hospitalized for suicide attempts that included swallowing a hair remover product.

Criminal justice experts have said Hailey's defiance to her continued isolation is representative of a common reaction to the continued use of isolation for difficult inmates, especially those with mental health problems. One national expert on mental health care in jails and prisons warned top city officials in a 2014 sworn affidavit that continued use of solitary for Hailey as punishment for outbursts "could lead to her death."

The newly elected Bronx district attorney, Darcel Clark, has vowed to aggressively pursue charges against inmates who assault jail guards. In a letter, Hailey's supporters have urged Clark to exercise restraint and dismiss the charges against Hailey in the interest of justice.

"Here is an opportunity to right a wrong," the letter states. "She should not be prosecuted for incidents that occurred during an ordeal that the city now agrees should not be practiced in our jails."

A spokeswoman for Clark refused to comment.

Hailey was charged in 2012 with attempted murder and accused of stabbing a baby following a wild fistfight with three other women in which a 4-month-old girl suffered a hairline skull fracture and received three stitches above her eye. She was acquitted by a jury following a month-long trial.

Since her release, Hailey has struggled to find stability, bouncing between shelters, friends' couches and sometimes the subway to sleep. She lost her public housing apartment and is trying to regain custody of her two children.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to reform the city's jails, and officials have curbed their use of solitary as punishment to control difficult-to-manage inmates.

A spokeswoman for de Blasio did not respond to a request for comment about Hailey's case.