Essay on Ethical Issues in Crime and Justice Research

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Carnegie Mellon University
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Protection of human participants involved in any study is a fundamental obligation of a researcher. When it comes to crime and justice research, ethics play a crucial role in how the process should be carried out. There is a code of ethics describing how a study is conducted. This law stands on the principles and guidelines generated by professional organizations to oversee research practices and simplify the lines of ethical and unethical conduct (Kraska & Neuman, 2012). Moral issues in caring out research have been a topic of discussion since historical times of World War II. Improvements are underway using numbering trials to ensure participants are well treated. The purpose of this paper is to address issues involving research participants. It shows the importance of adhering to ethical standards when conducting research and the consequences of what can happen in criminal justice research when standards are not maintained.

The goal of any researcher should be the welfare of human participants. The concern with ethical issues surrounding human experiments was heightened during the Nuremberg Trials following World War II. Research is a critical part of the development of sound criminal justice policies. The analysis should implement both ethical and legal issues when involving human subjects. Institutional review board requires researchers guarantee that their research does not breach the accepted ethical standards set by domestic and international bodies (Robert & Indermaur, 2003). Previous experiments did not adhere to moral and legal regulations.

Nazi human experiments are an excellent example of research that was not concerned with the human participants' well-being. The test was forced on prisoners and children located in a concentration camp. The participants were not volunteers and never agreed to the procedures that resulted in death, permanent disability, and trauma. The experiments involved twin children in understanding their genetic similarities and differences and other transplantation experiments. During another trial, prisoners were exposed to freezing temperatures without any clothes. These tests are helpful in current studies, but the way of acquiring the information was uncouth. Experiments should not be carried out on a protected individual that is children and prisoners without their consent. It was unethical and against the rights of participants to force them in participating in an experiment without information of risks involved.

The Nuremberg Code is essential in explaining the directives for human experiments. The first code emphasizes the importance of voluntary consent of the human subject. The code requires that participants should be legally capable of giving permission. Therefore, children are not to be used as participants. The experiments should yield positive results in society such as finding a cure for a disease (Adam, 2013). Also, the tests should avoid causing any physical or mental problem to the participants and should not be based on previous animal experiments. Participants can back down, and researchers terminate the experiment in the middle of research due to uncomfortable and risks presented to avoid further damage. If all the Nuremberg code principles are followed while caring out research, positive ethical and legal results will be recorded at the end of the research activity.

The Tuskegee syphilis experiment was carried out to understand the progression of untreated syphilis in African-American men. The participants were not given the real purpose of the test but told was a way of receiving free healthcare. During the research, the participants were given false information on the purpose of the study and time required. The studied took 40 years not the six months as planned. Due to ethical standards, the experiment was controversial. The infected men were not informed as having the disease nor any drugs administered to cure the disease. The doctors refused to take the choice presented to them to treat the participants and close the study but instead continued with the investigation. This was against the ethical code of giving participants required information before an experiment (National Bioethics Advisory Commission, 2001).

Stanford prison experiment is another illustration of ethical and legal requirements in carrying out research. The purpose of the experiment was to understand how people conform to roles of prisoners and guards in prison life. Zimbardo experiment wanted to know if the brutality experienced by American Prisons guards was because of a sadistic personality of the guards or due to the prison environment. Volunteers were used in the experiment conducted in the basement of the university facility. However, the study ended before the anticipated time because of complaints of brutal punishment from the guards while other participants backed down from the experiment. The experiment showed how people readily conformed to social roles in day-to-day life. The participants, in this case, were well informed of their responsibilities.

In 1974, a National Research Act was made a law to prevent a repeat done in earlier experiments such as the Tuskegee experiment. The law required participants to have precise information before taking part in a study. It helped protect human subjects of Biomedical Research to develop measures to protect human experiments in medicine (Nancy, 2006). The Belmont Report has a summary of ethical guidelines and principles for research involving human participants. The report contains three principles that require respect for persons, justice, and beneficence. It allows a positive solution to difficult independent decisions.

Therefore, it is necessary to have practices that prevent unethical behavior when carrying out research. Firstly, it is required to have practices and policies that illustrate the legal and ethical issues involved in experiments with human participants (Douglas, 2012). Assurance of anonymity and confidentiality are paramount in any research. Privacy in the research study requires participants to provide personal information thus can be linked back to the results. However, when participants are anonymous, it's impossible to make a connection between the results and participants. Guranteeing privacy to participants helps prevent biased results and findings.

The fundamentals of Belmont Report are essential in preventing unethical behavior during research. The principle of respect for persons protects anonymous people thus treating them properly and allowing informed consent. Justice, on the other hand, ensures non-exploitative, reasonable and well-considered procedures are undertaken in a fair manner. Beneficence is a philosophy that requires no harm to participants while maximizing results and minimizing risks. These principles form the basis of United States Department of Health and Human Services. Today, the report is essential in supporting research with human subjects ensuring the experiments meet the ethical foundations of regulations (Nancy, 2006).

Protecting the welfare and rights of volunteers in research is an essential principle of ethical research. More so, the vulnerable populations require extra protection as per the Federal Regulations code. The class includes human neonates and fetuses, pregnant women, children, and prisoners. This group of people has a social and economic vulnerability, communication and cognitive vulnerability and institutional vulnerability. In the case of participating in research, the vulnerable class is at a higher risk, therefore, requiring additional attention. In the past, these people have been abused because they are viewed as weak in society.

Institutional Review Board (IRB) is a group designed to monitor and review biomedical research involving human participants. The board has authority from the FDA to approve or disapprove research according to risk implications. The primary role of the board is to protect human subjects from psychological or physical harm. The protection is done by reviewing protocols of a research and other related materials. The ethics and legal requirements must be met before any study can be carried out.

In conclusion, it is clear that individuals who volunteer to be part of research should understand consequences involved in making the decision. According to the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (2001), criminal justice research can be an unpleasant experience because of the high risk involved. The IRB has a rule not tolerating fraud and using deceit to jeopardize the integrity of the process thus harming participants. The well-being of research participants should be at the forefront of all research endeavors. The past research experiments helped comes up the laws protecting the ethical and legal rights of the participants of research. If a criminal justice research is carried out correctly, the results are positive but if not then catastrophic consequences will be recorded.


Adam, L. (2013). Research Ethics. Retrieved from, E. (2012). 7 Practices to Prevent Unethical Behavior. New York; SAGE Publishers.

Kraska, P. & Neuman, W. (2012). Criminal Justice and Criminology Research Methods (2nd ed.). NJ: Prentice Hall

Nancy, S. (2006). Re-conceptualizing the Belmont Report. Journal of Community Practice. (4): 5-26.

Roberts, L.(2003). Signed Consent Form in Criminology Research. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 10(2), 289. Retrieved from Questa.

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