SAGE Journal Articles
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By their nature and locations, prisons are places in which few criminologists study firsthand. It is far easier to gain access to study the residents of a remote Alaskan community than to study the lives of prison inmates and/or those persons whose task it is to keep them within the prison walls. This article explores some of the interrelated challenges (access, rapport, honesty, confidentiality, compromise, etc.) faced by researchers conducting qualitative research within correctional environments. Examples are drawn from the literature as well as recent studies by the author on the work environment of correctional officers and a prison substance abuse treatment program.
The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences Code of Ethics and the American Society of Criminology Draft Code of Ethics raise the possibility of a conflict arising between research ethics and the law relating to evidentiary and testimonial privilege. However, they say nothing about the form that legal threats to research confidentiality may take in Canada and the United States, the two countries where these codes apply, nor do they describe the strategies that researcher can employ to protect confidential research information in court. The purpose of this article is to address these matters. It begins with a brief description of the role that confidentiality plays in protecting research participants and maintaining the validity and reliability of criminal justice research. It then describes the legal context in which the researchers' ethical obligations unfold and the strategies that researchers can employ to protect confidential research information when third parties use legal force to try to obtain it. The article argues that the ethical responsibilities of rea s studying criminal justice issues are bet fulfilled and their research participants best protected when researchers use their understanding of law to design research so as to anticipate the evidentiary requirements of the courts. It concludes with a discussion of the respective advantages and disadvantages of statutory as compared to common law protections for research confidentiality.