Dan Nolan

Solitary By the Numbers

Solitary By the Numbers website cover image.
A bar graph showing the different types of solitary confinement.

The FRONTLINE film, Last Days of Solitary, provides an up-close look at solitary confinement from one prison in Maine. With the release of this film our digital team decided to take a broader look at solitary in this country. We wanted to answer some basic questions about the state of solitary today: How many prisoners are in solitary? How long do they stay there? Which states house the most prisoners in solitary? I took the lead in researching the data and sketching out the charts. We built out a scrolling explainer story with embedded charts that introduces the issue of solitary confinement and digs into different breakdowns of the data.

Web page layout of Solitary By the Numbers showing two charts: gender in solitary and race in solitary, male prisoners.

Most of the charts show simple percentages, so I decided that bar graphs were an effective solution. This also meant we could build the charts out fully in HTML and CSS so they scale down and display optimally for different device sizes.

A bar chart showing the states with the most prisoners in solitary for three years or more.

I chose a simple palette of red and black to communicate the data, where the red is used for emphasis. Elegant and minimal visual design works well for our brand and lets the data and the story play the primary role.

Circlular bar charts showing sample offenses resulting in solitary.