Barred from better medicine? Reexamining regulatory barriers to the inclusion of prisoners in research

Elaine Huang, Jacqueline Cauley, Jennifer K. Wagner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


In 2015, President Obama announced plans for the Precision Medicine Initiative R ® (PMI), an ambitious longitudinal project aimed at revolutionizing medicine. Integral to this Initiative is the recruitment of over one million Americans into a volunteer research cohort, the All of UsSM Research Program. The announcement has generated much excitement but absent is a discussion of how the All of Us Research Program-to be implemented within the context of social realities of mass incarcerations and racial disparities in criminal justice and healthcare-might excaberate health disparities. We examine how attainment of Initiative's stated goals of reflecting the diversity of the American population and including all who are interested in participating might be impeded by regulatory and administrative barriers to the involvement of participantswho become incarcerated during longitudinal studies. Changes have been proposed to the federal policy for human subjects research protections, but current regulations and administrative policies-developed under a protectionist paradigm in response to scandalous research practices with confined populations-dramatically limit research involving prisoners. Our review provides rationale for the development of Initiative policies that anticipate recruitment and retention obstacles that might frustrate inclusivity and exacerbate health disparities. Furthermore, we question the effective ban on biomedical and behavioral research involving prisoners and advocate for regulatory reforms that restore participatory research rights of prisoners. Disparities in health and justice are intertwined, and without regulatory reforms to facilitate participatory research rights of prisoners and careful planning of viable and responsible recruitment, engagement, and retention strategies, Initiative could miss discovery opportunities, exacerbate health disparities, and increase levels of distrust in science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-174
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Law and the Biosciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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