The Ethics of Research with Prisoners
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Research involving prisoners is a vital and invaluable source of information on crime, criminal behaviour and criminal justice. However, it is also an area fraught with ethical challenges. In this article we consider the conditions in which prison research is conducted and examine some of the ethical issues associated with interviewing prisoners. We maintain that the review and approval of prison research by Human Research Ethics Committees may in some circumstances be insufficiently informed by the dilemmas of prison based research. Formal devices such as the ‘signed informed consent form’ serve the purpose of providing an audit trail for legal purposes but potentially snare both researcher and prisoner in a set of disclosures and risks which are not in the interests of either party. We argue for a more responsive and reflexive approach where ‘ethics in practice’ complement ‘procedural ethics’ to minimise potential harms and maximise potential benefits of the research.
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