Voluntary consent in correctional settings: do offenders feel coerced to participate in research?
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A major ethical concern in research with criminal offenders is the potential for abuse due to coercive influences that may adversely affect offenders' capacity to give voluntary consent to participate in research conducted in correctional settings. Despite this concern, to date there have been almost no systematic scientific investigations of the extent to which offenders themselves perceive that coercion occurs in these settings or that it is likely to influence their decisions about research participation. In a sample of over 600 ethnically diverse men and women recruited from various prisons and community corrections facilities in Texas and Florida, we used a vignette-based survey concerning a hypothetical research project to measure and compare offenders' global perceptions of coercive processes, as well as the differential salience and perceived coercive influence of specific factors (e.g., coercion by other inmates, inducements from staff). Somewhat surprisingly, across multiple outcome measures our participants on average reported relatively little in the way of significant coercive influences on their capacity to make voluntary decisions concerning research participation. Implications and directions for future research on coercive influences in offender research are discussed.