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Ethical Considerations for Research Involving Prisoners
mission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (NCPHSBBR, 1976). They are respect for persons and justice. The principle of respect for persons invokes the protection of individuals’ autonomy and personal dignity and requires that informed and voluntary consent be obtained from subjects before their involvement in research. This basic principle is often difficult to implement in a correctional setting because of the power dynamics and inherent deprivations within such a setting, especially with respect to voluntariness. Privacy and confidentiality play central roles within the principle of respect for persons as well. The principle of justice concerns the fair treatment of persons and groups. In the context of research involving prisoners, justice requires that prisoners not bear a disproportionate share of the research burden without a commensurate share of benefit, and also that prisoners have the freedom to decide questions of research participation for themselves. Justice becomes particularly important to encouraging research on a system that disproportionately affects the disadvantaged and racial and ethnic minorities (Chapter 2).
The competence and freedom of a prisoner to make a choice as well as the reality of privacy protection through confidentiality can be hampered in any of the correctional settings that restrict liberty, whether by the correctional officers or other prisoners within the prison walls or by probation officers, for example, in the community. If, for instance, researchers plan to study the effectiveness of electronic monitoring as compared with parole supervision, a system of oversight should be in place to protect the persons involved in the study—who currently are not covered under Subpart C protections. An expanded definition of prisoner is offered in this chapter. A fuller description of the ethical framework followed by the committee is found in Chapter 5.
CURRENT REGULATIONS PERTINENT TO PLACES OFPRISONER RESEARCH
In Subpart C of 45 C.F.R. § 46.303(c), the term prisoner is defined as:
Any individual involuntarily confined or detained in a penal institution. The term is intended to encompass individuals sentenced to an institution under a criminal or civil statute, individuals detained in other facilities by virtue of statutes or commitment procedures which provide alternatives to criminal prosecution or incarceration in a penal institution, and individuals detained pending arraignment, trial, or sentencing [emphases added].
The current regulations clearly emphasize custodial confinement as a consequence of the state’s exercise of its power via the criminal justice system. The potential impact of confinement in highly controlled institutional settings on individual autonomy is explicitly recognized in other