July 13, 2006 – A federally funded report released yesterday says that the patchwork of regulations governing scientific research conducted on prisoners should be overhauled.
The analysis of current protocols for using incarcerated populations in research was funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services and carried out by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), an arm of the National Academies of Sciences. IOM researchers concluded that, despite prisonersâ€™ increased vulnerability to abuse as compared to the general population, the rules for when and how they can be used as research subjects are outdated and inconsistent, depending on who is funding the research and where prisoners are incarcerated.
"Although the level of severity varies depending on the correctional setting, prisoners face restrictions on liberty and autonomy, limited privacy and potentially inadequate healthcare services," wrote the reportâ€™s authors.
Researchers are concerned that prisoners might participate in studies in order to access basic medical attention.
"These factors can be barriers toâ€¦ ethical research, namely the acquisition of voluntary informed consent, protection of privacy and access to adequate health care," the report continues, "such that a choice between research participation and nonparticipation is not simply a desperate action to obtain treatment."
The report notes that most research conducted on captive populations in the United States is free from federal regulations and the scrutiny of institutional review boards. The report calls on Congress to mandate uniform guidelines for all research projects that enroll prisoners.