Contextual Influences in Prisoner Research

About the Project

Federal regulations have special concerns about the protection of vulnerable populations from harm in research studies.  One such vulnerable population that has received great attention is the prisoner population. Entire sections of federal regulations focus on defining special procedures to make sure prisoners are not coerced into participating in research. Although there is much concern about coercion of prisoners in this context, no one has ever asked prisoners themselves about what pressures they experience when being asked to participate in research.

The current NIMH funded study will be the first time the contextual influences on prisoners are examined and where prisoners are actually asked about the issues and assumptions upon which these federal regulations are based.  People in several types of custody (e.g., prison, community programs, NGRI patients in psychiatric hospitals) will be interviewed to assess their perceptions of the factors in their environments that might adversely affect their capacity to make a voluntary decision about taking part in research studies. Potential factors could include, for example: beliefs that institution staff might offer them incentives, such as a promise for early release; or beliefs that they might be threatened by staff or other patients if they did (or did not) take part in a research study.  This study will also examine personality factors that might lend themselves to various levels of perceived coercion.

Principal Investigator

Paul Stiles, JD, PhD


Norman Poythress, PhD

Funding Agency

National Institute of Mental Health through a subcontract with Texas A&M University

Award Amount



09/18/2008 - 06/30/2012