Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Amy Fiske

Committee Co-Chair

Edward Baker

Committee Member

Barry Edelstein

Committee Member

William Fremouw

Committee Member

Amy Gentzler


Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in incarcerated individuals. Previous research suggests that prior suicidal behaviors, history of substance abuse/dependence, and depressive symptoms are common risk factors associated with death by suicide in incarcerated populations. Additionally, offenders who have committed violent crimes, are incarcerated in higher security institutions, and have longer sentences are also at increased risk for suicide. Although research has identified risk factors for suicidal behaviors, there has been very little theory-driven research on suicidal behaviors in incarcerated populations. Joiner's interpersonal theory of suicide (Joiner, 2005; Van Orden et al., 2010) may be an especially promising tool for use in studying suicidal behaviors in incarcerated individuals. The current study assessed whether federally incarcerated individuals (n = 114) differed from community controls (n = 96) in levels of perceived burdensomeness, thwarted belongingness, and acquired capability for suicide, components of Joiner's interpersonal theory. Incarcerated individuals did not report greater levels of perceived burdensomeness, thwarted belongingness, exposure to painful and provocative events, and acquired capability for suicide compared to community controls. Findings from an exploratory factor analysis of painful and provocative events in incarcerated individuals suggest that when controlling for other significant factors, legal painful and provocative events were independently predictive of acquired capability for suicide. Further research on suicidal risk factors in incarcerated populations is recommended and may prove especially useful in improving risk identification programs used in incarceration settings.