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Experimentation on Prisoners: The Inadequacy of Voluntary Consent

NCJ Number
New England Journal on Criminal and Civil Confinement Volume: 15 Issue: 1 Dated: (Winter 1989) Pages: 55-80
C M McCarthy
Date Published
26 pages
This overview of experimentation on prison volunteers focuses on the motivations for inmate consent to become experimental subjects and whether the Federal and State statutory protections and judicial precedent ensure adequate safeguards for voluntary consent.
The article first reviews the history both on consenting and unconsenting subjects in experimental research. A discussion of motivations inducing inmates' consent to become research subjects identifies the following incentives: relief from boredom, compensation, altruism, hope of favorable treatment from prison authorities, medical help, insulation from prison violence, and the attraction of risk. Current legislation affords some protection for inmates who volunteer for experimental research. Consent is a complex issue in the law. In a society where the freedom of choice is a highly valued right, any supposed consent for risky ventures comes under special scrutiny. Authorities generally acknowledge that inmates do experience subtle coercions to volunteer for experimental research. State regulations and court holdings apparently do little to address this concern. 189 footnotes.


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