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Ethical Considerations for Research Involving Prisoners
ensuring that research with prisoners occurs in an environment that isappropriate to the health and well-being of prisoners, including accessto existing medical and mental health care that is adequate, protectionfrom inmate attempts to coerce or manipulate participation or non-participation in research, and prompt access to decent health-careservices in case the research causes physical or mental harm.
Ethical research requires an environment that is humane and provides reasonable access to supportive care, particularly when human subjects are exposed to physical or psychological risks. Without adequate medical or psychological care, subjects may be vulnerable to undue inducements to participate in research such that they would consent in order to gain access to medical care or other benefits they would not normally have. Finally, researchers have an ethical obligation, if they expose subjects to risk, to rapidly and professionally remedy any harms caused by the research.
HRPPPs can meet their obligations under Recommendation 5.3 by engaging in due diligence and going through a careful process to discover whether adequate heath care exists within the correctional setting, including analysis of the factors described above and any others that might reflect on the quality of the correctional setting. Obtaining answers to these questions would likely require visiting the setting, speaking to health-care staff, and reviewing relevant court cases.
Lastly, if research is to be done in prisons, there is an ethical responsibility to devote much of this research effort to determine how best to achieve all of the legitimate purposes of the criminal justice system.
Recommendation 5.4Support critical areas of correctional research.Government agencies should fund and researchers should conduct research to identify needed supports to facilitate prisoners’ successfulreentry into society, reduce recidivism, and inform policy makers aboutthe most humane and effective strategies for the operation of correctional systems.
Society creates a correctional system for clear purposes, such as deterrence to future crime and rehabilitation of those who are convicted of committing offenses. It is of utmost social importance to better understand how best to achieve the purposes of incarceration, including reduction of recidivism and successful introduction back into the community. Perhaps unavoidably, the criminal justice system inflicts some harm on those it punishes. As ethical people, we constantly strive to develop and use corrective measures that are effective and humane, without causing unnecessary physical or mental harm to prisoners. However, prisoners are a vulnerable population subject to abuse and exploitation. Indeed, several subclasses of prisoners make up some of society’s most vulnerable populations, such as