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Prisoners as Research Participants: Current Practice and Attitudes in the UK

Investigators: Dr Anna Charles, Professor Heather Draper, Dr Annette Rid, Dr Hugh Davies

Prison populations are atypical of the population as a whole, and this is reflected in morbidity, life-expectancy and healthcare needs. Like the general population, however, there are increasing numbers of older prisoners. Prisoners are often regards as a vulnerable group when it comes to research participation. It is often believed that the only research prisoners should participate in is that which addresses their needs as prisoners. Even then special safeguards may be required that respond to their perceived vulnerabilities. We demonstrated that prisoners have very little access to trials that are being conducted in local health faculties where they are being treated for cancer, diabetes, heart failure and other common conditions. Prisoners are more likely to be invited to participate in research on mental health or infectious disease. Whilst this means that they are not exposed to the potential burdens of research, it also means that individuals may be deprived of the potential advantages of research participation.


Charles, A. Rid, A. Davis, H. and Draper, H. Prisoners as Research Participants: Current Practice and Attitudes in the UK Journal of Medical Ethics 2014; 42(4) p. 246-252

Charles, A., Draper, H. “Equivalence of care” in prison medicine: is equivalence of process the right measure of equality. Journal of Medical Ethics 2012; 38: 215-218