Inmate Experimentation, With Oversight, Backed By Critic


The recommendation by an influential federal panel of medical advisers that the government loosen regulations that severely limit the testing of pharmaceuticals on prison inmates was cautiously endorsed by a prisoners’ advocate, according to the New York Times. The proposal was initially reported in Crime & Justice News July 13 in a summary from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Alvin Bronstein, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who helped found the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he did not believe that altering the regulations risked a return to the abuse of inmates that occurred at Pennsylvania’s Holmesburg prison. “With the help of external review boards that would include a prisoner advocate,” he said, “I do believe that the potential benefits of biomedical research outweigh the potential risks.”

The regulations also were a reaction to revelations in 1972 about the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, which was begun in the 1930's and lasted 40 years. Several hundred mostly illiterate men with syphilis in rural Alabama were left untreated, even after a cure was discovered, so that researchers could study the disease. “What happened at Holmesburg was just as gruesome as Tuskegee, but at Holmesburg it happened smack dab in the middle of a major city, not in some backwoods in Alabama,” said Prof. Allen Hornblum of Temple University, author of a book about the Holmesburg research.


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