Coercion and Undue Influence Risk in Criminal Justice Research

Coercion and undue influence are risks that must be considered when recruiting study participants that are involved with the criminal justice system. Prisoners are considered a vulnerable population per CFR 46 Subpart C. Prisoners that are subjects in research are at risk of coercion and undue influence to participate.
While not designated as vulnerable populations by the Common Rule, concerns related to coercion and undue influence to participate must be considered for other individuals in the criminal justice system. This includes not only individuals under some type of supervised status (e.g., pre-trial, probation, parole, community corrections, halfway house, etc.), but also victims.
Similar to prisoners, individuals in a supervised status within criminal justice are at high risk for coercion and undue influence to participate. These individuals report to a supervising individual that has the authority to recommend incarceration in the event conditions of release are not met. If the opportunity to “volunteer” for research is presented by the supervising authority, it could be interpreted by the individual as an expectation, no matter how clearly the “volunteer” aspect is stressed. For this reason, a good rule of thumb is to have a 3rd party with no role in the supervision conduct all recruitment activities.
Crime victims are not under any type of supervision; however they may feel some type of obligation to those that assisted them. A bond can form between victims and victim advocates as they work their way through criminal proceedings. As a result it is advisable to find a 3rd party that was not involved with the criminal proceedings to conduct all recruitment activities involving victims as study participants.
A final group that is often overlooked in this category are family members of offenders. While these individuals are not directly at threat of repercussions, they can often sense that their family member involved with the criminal justice system might be negatively impacted if they fail to participate in research. For example, the family of a prisoner might think the parole opportunity for the offender could be negatively impacted if they refuse to participate in the research. Again, having some type of 3rd party conduct all recruitment activities is the best approach to negate this issue.


Author: Dr. Ron Wallace, PhD