Research on social integration and suicide suggests that extreme social isolation can lead to feelings of detachment from others, hallucinations, and suicidal ideation. The purpose of this study is to evaluate changes over time in the written expression of inmates in solitary confinement compared to lower levels of prison security. Using data from the American Prison Writing Archive (APWA), the first and last essays of 36 inmates in solitary confinement and lower levels of security are analyzed and compared through the use of a computer text analysis program, Linguistic Inquiry Word Count (LIWC), and qualitative coding. In line with the suicide model of social integration, writings by inmates in solitary confinement were focused more on themselves and less on other people over time. In addition, inmates in solitary confinement wrote about loneliness, fighting to stay sane, and suicidal thoughts. In contrast, writings by inmates in lower security were focused less on themselves and more on other people over time. They also wrote about both positive and negative relationships with other inmates. Both security levels wrote about abuse from prison staff. The results of this study highlight the detrimental consequences of social isolation and solitary confinement. Furthermore, these findings call into question solitary confinement as a violation of the constitutional protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

Type of Work

Thesis - Limited Access

Department or Program



Hamilton College


Bachelor of Arts

Date of Graduation


Faculty Advisor

Stephen Ellingson, Matthew Grace

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.