Instigator / Pro

THW Allow Prisoners to Volunteer for Drug Trials for Mitigated Sentences in US


The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.

Winner & statistics
Better arguments
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After not so many votes...

It's a tie!
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Contender / Con

This House Would Allow Prisoners to Volunteer for Drug Trials for Lighter Sentences in US

Prisoner: a person legally held in prison as a punishment for crimes they have committed or while awaiting trial

Drug Trials: a subset of clinical trials -- a controlled experiment involving a defined set of human subjects, having a clinical event as an outcome measure, and intended to yield scientifically valid information about the efficacy or safety of a drug, vaccine, etc..

The term sentence in law refers to punishment that was actually ordered or could be ordered by a trial court in a criminal procedure. If a sentence is reduced to a less harsh punishment, then the sentence is said to have been **mitigated** or commuted. For example, a murder charge may be lessened to a manslaughter charge.

Burden of proof is shared

Round 1
My argument is actually very simple. It's shocking how simple it is. There is remarkably little to lose by having trials that can further science, and give the prisoners freedom to benefit both society and reward them a little with reducing their sentence. With more than 1.8 billion prisoners in jail, any policies that hinder or discourage prisoners from participating in these studies would adversely affect Americans. Not only so, we encourage greater informed consent, built upon existing safe principles. Examples highlight that our enforcement of persons' rights is upheld well, and will be even more unbreakable with my policy put in place.

As scientific American introduces, "when Draper took her analysis further and surveyed 293 members of the U.K. National Health Service’s Research Ethics Committees as well as 69 medical and social science researchers, asking them to consider if prisoners should be recruited for medical studies and about obstacles to including them, she discovered that the strongest factors motivating scientists and ethicists to exclude prisoners were not about coercion or restrictive guidance discouraging prisoner involvement. " [1] Already, we see that informed consent is not a problem, and that ethically there is no issue.

Not only so, the article furthers that it will give a better representation of critical data that we don't have. "Hispanics, meanwhile, make up 16 percent of the population but only 1 percent of clinical trial participants". There is a critical need for more clinical trial participants, and what better way to do it than the area that congregates the most of minority? 

Indeed, further papers combine to show that prisoners will do this out of the kindness of their hearts, and this will be furthered by the addition of lighter sentences. Science direct reports: "a very high percentage of particularly vulnerable, mentally ill prisoners demonstrated adequate capacity to consent to research." [2] Even a Sweden study with prisoners remarks a similar result, stating that "the results do not indicate that informed consent procedures ...was inadequately performed". [3]

Though our history has shown some abuse of prisoners, the modern society re-enforces the prisoners' rights and asserts the people's informed consent. Think about it this way. With greater amount of trials, we can get more insight into different people's reaction to the medicine. Even if we accidentally harm the prisoners, I argue that this would distribute the harm in a better way, since the earlier phases can be designated to the people who would rather take the punishment. They don't have a job. They don't have to take care of any one else. It would be much better for society for prisoners to accidentally get sick or hurt than a general person. 

If this wasn't enough, yet another paper explaining the history tells of the evolution of the rights of prisoners. It says: "current regulations (informed by the 1976Commission’s ethical framework and findings) prioritize justice—defined hereas whether prisoners are treated fairly and whether they bear a fair share of theresearch benefits and burdens—and respect for persons, which questionswhether prisoners have enough personal autonomy to give voluntary consent" [4]. We've gone a long way since the beginning. Even though there are three minor critiques the author argues against the 2006 standards, these are only further standards to heap upon our current regulation. We should continue encouraging more prisoners to develop our framework. That way, we can establish a solid framework for testing people in general. Covering for their sentence would just be a bonus reward in the end.

Remember that the prisons will be under greater scrutiny with more prisoners taking the drug trials. There will be greater motivation to encourage the standards of justice and consent with a greater population at stake. As the Belmont Report notes, the prisons must enforce the ethical regulations, which will be furthered under pro's world [5]:

1. “Respect for persons” entails fully informed consent. The potential subject must be informed of, and understand, any risks involved. Prisoners receive explicit consideration; they must not be unduly influenced in any way.
2. Beneficence” entails the principles “Do no harm” and “Maximize possible benefits and minimize possible harms.” If an experiment may cause harm to the subject, the risk involved must be carefully weighed against the possible benefits. If the protocols do turn out to cause significant harm, the experiment must end.
3. Justice” entails the equitable distribution of risks & benefits. Vulnerable populations must not be exploited. For instance, poor persons should not be manipulated into participating in research that is most likely to benefit wealthy persons. “Persons confined to institutions” are explicitly protected from such exploitation.

Both community service and good behavior are commonly accepted as ways to reduce your prison sentence. Drug trials are no different, and it is reasonable that this act to benefit society will work out in the long run.

So in conclusion, our improvements to let prisoners freely volunteer to take drug trials should continue. It is a net benefit to society and enforces informed consent standards, putting greater pressure on prisons. Similarly, it also builds a strong framework in the future in case any civilians wish to also volunteer for drug trials.

Now onto Con.

Manufactured Consent and everything that comes along with it.

Do you know why it’s wrong for any and all authority figures in someone’s life to seduce them? This is a genuine question to you reader, not a time to say ‘yes I know why it’s just wrong’ but to truly grasp why.

No, I am not going to link to a fancy URL that tells you ‘why it’s wrong’ and back it up like that, what I am going to do is going to hit you deeper to then understand a fundamental problem with the very basis of Pro’s case.

Let’s say you are a university professor and a student seems to want better grades(so we remove the age aspect from things as unless you’re a genius student who was an early bloomer academically, you’re over 18 at university). So, you offer them to genuinely learn from you as a tutor (not just artificially given them higher grades in exchange for a favour) but they must be willing to be a test subject for a new drug being tested by a PhD student you also have a ‘good relationship’ with. It’s all win-win right? Nothing’s wrong right? 

Okay, so let’s up the ante, you’re someone who is dooming someone to many, hey let’s be specific 22, years in prison for whatever crime(s) it is that they committed. They wake up, avoid getting shanked, enjoy their little walk outside in their little safezone with their prison clique, come back to bed, are bored out of their skull and would do anything and I mean nearly a-ny-thing you can offer them in exchange for getting out faster. At least most would and those that wouldn’t are irrelevant to both sides of this debate after all. The money they could be offered on top of that (which could fit with the plan set out by Pro) would merely be a bonus, it’s the reduced sentence that gets them salivating.

If you don’t see anything wrong with saying this is a consensual, informed decision made by the prisoners, then perhaps you belong there. I don’t even mean that in a friendly, sarcastic tone. If you genuinely don’t grasp how this is manufactured consent, you don’t understand what consent in its true form actually is.

The UK legislation that didn’t mention coercion, which Pro refers to in Round 1, is referring to the idea of paying the prisoners money for it (which still raises issues of manufactured consent but they are far more desperate to get out of prison, just from a logical perspective of their motives and what prison is for them; It’s a punishment). 

Do be sure to read what they mention has been done to prisoners and detainees for experimental benefit, albeit with pure coercion. Truly be sure to understand. I am fairly certain some of the coercion involved a harsh treatment of the prisoner vs luxury or reduced sentence. However, it doesn’t go into too many specifics of that in the article.

Hang on, what if they like prison or love science? Who am I to say they don’t know the risks? 

Again, I won’t use any sources here, they’re not required. You see, either they should want to get the hell out of prison ASAP or it’s not doing its retributive aspect of justice. On top of that, if they are happy in prison and it’s doing its rehabilitative elements than why would they risk severely harming their bodies in exchange for ‘science’ and even if they genuinely understand this exchange and love science that much (or want out of prison anyway and don’t feel that their consent has been artificially manufactured), what exactly is this entire thing trying to achieve?

See, what about deterrence? What about the outside society? How about the way in which the general civilian views prison less as a deterrent of crime, since a lucky experiment and you’re good to get out fast for the act you were meant to be sufficiently punished for?

This basically makes prison defeat its purpose in all ways… 

The deeply disturbing moral issue with seeing prisoners as commodities.

Now, most highly developed nations in the modern world (even many capitalist ones) generally avoid prisons themselves being directly run for-profit as they are aware of what this will do. However, some severely capitalist nations that aren’t generally considered ‘highly developed’ as well as… The US of A itself thanks to Reagan and his legacy, have developed this shocking mechanic whereby private organisations can and do profit from the imprisonment of others (thus incentivised to keep them imprisoned as long as possible and perhaps offer them sub-minimum-wage manual labour knowing the prisoners will leap at the opportunity).

There is not a single genuine expert on law enforcement itself that I know of (even those who work for and inside a privatised prison) that themselves directly consider it moral, they merely are serving a purpose which was going to be unnecessary if Obama’s plan to revoke these things and replace them with public/federal prisons had gone through.

^ many more than these support this

If prisoners are commodities to negotiate with and rinse dry for our gain (even scientific but especially financial, notice that Pro doesn’t claim this is solely state-funded and run science research) we begin to open a rabbit hole with regards to what we do with them and why we do it.

The purpose of prison is what exactly?

If we are going to negotiate with prisoners on the basis that they get a lesser punishment in exchange for risking bodily (and potentially psychological) harm, what precisely are we demonstrating the world itself to be in their eyes? You need to appreciate that most people walking into a prison are either sociopaths/psychopaths themselves or they are going to need to survive in an environment dominated by this type (especially if they are in max security) where everyone either is pushed to become ‘better at crime’ once they get out or at the very least is to suffer through it stoically. 

I’m aware how skeptical I’m being of prison, however this is because I understand its aim. Prison isn’t properly successful (at least not in non-social-democracies and even in them it’s flawed) when it comes to rehabilitating criminals. It’s designed fundamentally around retribution and deterrence in what was seen originally as a humane and wise alternative to hanging, lashings, public humliation where people were encouraged to throw things at the person/people and such means of combined retribution and deterrence (some nations still retain the death penalty of course, Iran in particular does it the traditional hanging way when it can).

The issue is whether or not we want criminals to walk out better people, rehabilitated. I would even go so far as to point out:

The substantial prison population in the United States is strongly connected to drug-related offenses. While the exact rates of inmates with substance use disorders (SUDs) is difficult to measure, some research shows that an estimated 65% of the United States prison population has an active SUD. Another 20% did not meet the official criteria for an SUD, but were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of their crime.

that literally means 85% of criminals (with 65% absolutely so) potentially would be seeking any possibility to test any drug at all that they hope by a miracle can ease their withdrawal symptoms and/or gain them a new high. We are talking about abusing addicts' weaknesses, including gambling addicts and adrenaline junkies who may crave the risk involved to unhealthy levels (hence having committed crimes due to this same propensity). 

Let me be clear here, these people not only have us manufacture their consent but actively prevent their rehabilitation.

This is an immoral idea on so many different levels. I look forward to Round 2.
Round 2
Con opens up with an unsourced criticism that basically assumes something akin to "it can't be done -- they will be too drawn to the rewards and we can't enforce informed consent". However, he has dropped my previous arguments.

Recall that currently:
  • "the strongest factors motivating scientists and ethicists to exclude prisoners were not about coercion or restrictive guidance discouraging prisoner involvement"
  • Science direct reports: "a very high percentage of particularly vulnerable, mentally ill prisoners demonstrated adequate capacity to consent to research." 
  • "current regulations ... prioritize justice"
If this wasn't enough, my previous round's 4th source highlights that through the tragedy of unfortunate experimentation, we have been forced to grant greater rights to vulnerable people in general. Greedy men will always try to draw people in with lack of informed consent to try to take advantage, but whether we keep them in the dark, or force them into the light, presents a very different story. With greater freedom offered to prisoners -- and potentially other people at risk -- we will enforce informed consent better rather than worse. Page 55 notes, "By explicitly referencing the Nuremburg Code, the Commissionimplied that the abuses conducted by American physicians and researchersraised concerns similar to those raised by scientists put on trial after World WarII"

Not only were the researchers scrutinized further like I claimed they would, the article further notes, "The Belmont Report66 informed new rules in the Code of FederalRegulations that strengthened all human subject protections.67 Additionalsubparts were added to provide specific protections for research involvingvulnerable subjects—pregnant women, human fetuses, and neonates (SubpartB); prisoners (Subpart C); and children (Subpart D)." Con would rather the government deciding people didn't deserve any freedom to choose at all, rather than accepting that people can make informed decisions. It's impossible to set a guideline for "too much risk" or "just enough risk" when an activity only involves your own safety. The government has no need to selectively restrict on such a specific activity. Con argues that the state of the prisoners bring a unique amount of motivation for them. He makes it seem like prison is exceptionally bad, so you want out more, interfering with your decision.

But Con also assumes that the rewards to themselves are the only thing that matters. That they won't look beyond their own needs. Let's continue the community service analogy. Prisoners realize the joy of helping others, rather than merely doing the job to get out of prison faster. Certainly, the community service is a lighter punishment, with less restriction on freedom and less harsh conditions. Yet somehow, community service is at least equally effective at rehabilitation. So my proposed plan, if similar to community service, can be said to actually encourage the prisoners to not only get out faster, but live their life and prevent them going back in.

As one study notes, "offenders recidivate significantly less after having performed community service compared to after having been imprisoned." [1] The psychological theories may conflict, but the empirical research proves that the data doesn't lie. The most powerful reason presented is: "Deviant labeling and official labeling in particular can lead to economic and social stigmatization (Pettit and Western 2004), increasingly block opportunities for a conventional life (Becker 1963; Farrington 1977; Bernburg and Krohn 2003), and progressively isolate offenders from the law abiding community thus fostering their return to committing criminal activities (McAlinden 2005)". So despite the claims of deterrence theory and ideas that men are naturally evil with tendency to do crime only stopped by the punishment... we still get the result of more good men resulted from helping others rather than punishing the person.

I don't want to detract too far from the premise, but there are many other explanations that may relate to this idea -- corporal punishment is considered largely ineffective in the long run, since it encourages violence and tells the child to mostly stop for fear of punishment, rather than knowing of justice/unjustness. People are found to be naturally helpful as babies, with only the isolation and difficulty of life later on causing such seeming insanity. We are not innately malicious as Hobbes proposed. I can give sources to all of these ideas, but going back to the solid research; we remind the prisoners what it means to be human, to do good, and contribute further to society. Not only do they stop wasting time in prison, they build up a potential future based on just actions rather than stigmatism. As such, the drug trials which would immensely benefit science would also similarity appeal to the altruism of the prisoners, which furthers the justification to give them lighter sentences.

Con claims that privatized prisons would be encouraged to keep prisoners to extend this scientific and perhaps finance gain. This is precisely why the lighter (and perhaps even shorter) sentence is necessary, to prevent the prisons from trying to get the prisoner further in trouble. Underneath current circumstances, Con's world could have corrupt wardens extending sentences and preventing the prisoners from gaining more rights. However, with the forced examination of drug trials and ethics of the guards' treatments, we kill two birds with one stone. Not only is the warden forced to make a trade off, he is also put under higher standards. With the exchange of drug trials for reduced sentence (rather than something like money), the corruption is actually reduced, since the warden can't excuse to continue profiting off prisoners.  

con claims that the amount of those people who use substance abuse will use the drug trial to find even more drugs to use, but offers no support for this. By contrast, the clinical trials actually *want* to study the problem of drug abuse and this big population offers an easy way to look into this problem. [2] Instead of looking within general population where it may be difficult to find the minority who would be reluctant to admit such a flaw, the norm being substance abuse means that they would more freely admit that they can contribute to this study. This only bolsters my under-representation argument. Prisons harbor the minority, both in terms of race, in physical practices, and even drug use. They are a diamond in the rough for data that we would normally have immense trouble gathering. Hence, this only seems to direct my studies toward a more specific subject, rather than reduce to no studies at all.

Round 3
If you read what I wrote in Round 1 (R1) and then read what Pro wrote in R2, it is confusing what has even happened. It is as if Pro has merely reworded his R1 and the main/only thing that was rebuked and addressed is my noting of addicts and how substance abusers as well as gambling addicts and adrenaline junkies will be exploited and pushed to become worse by this (the rebuke falls short but first let's discuss why the rest of my R1 wasn't addressed).

First and foremost, Pro simply repasted this bare assertion from Round 1 that in one particular case study in UK that involved paying prisoners money for test trials (not reducing their sentences), that the primary reasons it was decided against weren't coercion. I completely explained why regardless of if they think the main reason was coercion or not, it's unfair to expect prisoners to fully consent and be able to resist reduced sentences. It is in fact also why we outlaw prisoners having sexual relations or any romantic relations with prison officers. While Pro will undoubtedly retort that this has no net benefit for overall society in the way a trial of drugs or other experiment does, the basis is simple; if the prisoner thinks their life can be made easier and prison sentence could even be potentially reduced thanks to an activity, we then determine that consent can't fully be given (because there's factors at play that take away their ability to not consent).

^ this is just in the US but this is a law in many highly developed nations. Less developed nations tend to still rule towards it being non-consensual so long as the prisoner explicitly says so.

I already fully addressed this particular UK study and why it's not really applicable because it uses money instead of reduced sentencing, in my R1. I will not repeat myself in an 8K-only debate.

Now to explore what hasn't properly been addressed; justice and its aims.

  1. Retribution
  2. Rehabilitation
  3. Deterrence
  4. Incapacitation
  5. Restitution

I didn't go too much into 4 and 5 in my R1. Restitution is one of the only aspects of justice that aren't/isn't negatively affected by the proposed idea/policy. Incapacitation is very much linked to rehabilitation in this particular instance because what I am saying is that reducing the sentence lets criminals walk out sooner, having not fully regretted what they did (incapacitation is about keeping them locked up, under house arrest or dead via death penalty in order to not allow them to harm victims and/or themselves anymore).

When we understand what punishment is supposed to do in a justice system, we start to see the completely unethical nature of reducing someone's sentence just because they'd be willing to be a guinea pig for a new drug (or other scientific invention that is used on people). The idea that we would punish them less for this destroys all elements of punishment except for restitution (which is only applicable to financial crimes or crimes that hurt someone non-financially but requires compensation). 

The retributive and deterrent elements are blatantly harmed since releasing them early for being willing to undergo a trial experiment is asinine in every conceivable way. There's not just a lack of logic, there is a complete incoherent nature of ethics involved. These criminals are taking it to get a reduced sentence, very few will be motivated by the 'helping of society'. You then release them early for it and what it tells the rest of society, especially would-be criminals, is that 'hey, you only need to be scared of how badly that trial affects your body, you're probably gonna be fine' and people who would have been deterred away from crimes as well as families of victims of crimes are going to be shocked at how easy it becomes to get a short sentence for a crime. It's just plain wrong, it goes against the core premise of justice.

Now let's look at rehabilitation. If people can get out earlier for undergoing a drug trial, almost everyone less motivated to be rehabilitated (which already needs a lot of work in most nations in terms of how poorly prison rehabilitates prisoners thanks to a lack of any constructive counselling and learning activities within prison). If anything this teaches criminals that they were correct about life; that those that take dangerous risks go further and those that shy away get a sucker's sentence, so to speak. This not only begins to defeat the ability to convince prisoners to participate in things like group therapy and other constructive programs but it sends a subconscious message to all prisoners about life and justice that is toxic to their rehabilitation altogether. I stand completely by my drug aspect, Pro has failed to address it. Pro is saying that the scientist's motive in some trials may be to experiment on drug addicts in order to see how to help them overcome the addiction with other substances... That doesn't really matter. The point I was saying is that on top of the 'reduced sentence' being an irresistible reward that already reduces the margin of capacity to consent against volunteering for the trial, you now have to admit that there's a huge proportion of prisoners who are not in the right mindset if it's a drug trial, to say no to it. This is about morality, ethics, consent and rehabilitation. The proposed idea defeats all of these on so many levels. Pro would have you believe it's worth violating all of them in the name of the net-benefit of more trials reaching a conclusion in a smaller amount of time. I argue that this ironically rather like a criminal gangster leader would think about sacrificing a few of their thugs for the 'greater good/gain'.

What we are doing here is saying that it's ok to be ruthless, manipulative and to use prisoners as we see fit, so long as technically no coercion was involved on paper. This is even worse than offering them money for the trials and of course consent is even more disconcerting in this scenario than the one Pro offered in Round 1.

In Pro's second link of R1 (not first, I made a mistake) the entire thing is about a scenario where no reduced sentence is offered, only money is. This is different to begin with. Furthermore, all Pro says is that their main reason for opting against the trials wasn't consent of the prisoners... So what? It is still a substantial reason and this scenario involves violating principles of justice in the name of incentivising prisoners to sacrifice their physical (if not psychosomatic as it may involve that) wellbeing in exchange for an offer few could ever refuse; a reduced sentence in a place almost noone wants to be in.
Round 4
I'm running out of time, so let's summarize my case and Con's failures as shortly as possible.

  • Con has completely dropped the medical research potential and ability to gain vast amount of information. This will save many lives in the long run and reduce suffering.
  • Not only does reduced sentence due to community service encourage rehabilitation, destroying Con's logic and bolstering my policy, it could also save prison money in the long run, thus winning my argument
  • The government has no right to decide arbitrarily what seems to be "too much lost freedom". The prisoners already lost quite an amount of rights, so Con's argument seems a bit contradictory. He would rather negate all possibility to decide on that freedom -- so that they would not lose that freedom (see the problem?). It seems like he would rather the Warden sneak some more dangerous deals and allow for secret clinical trials on prisoners (so long as they can hide it), which hides the coercion deeper into the shadows.
  • Recall that, in the World Wars, the clinical trials were a norm, yet the regulations were not, hence, it was practically an open secret or ignorance to keep the prisoners as tools to use. Who's to say that corrupt wardens that Con brings up wouldn't continue their trials if only in secret? By making it open, we force the wardens to regulate standards, preventing complete hiding of these trials. By allowing my policy, we openly declare the prisoners' rights and enhance their ability to make this decision.
  • Con has dropped all the rights gained by using committee resources to ensure fair treatment of prisoners. Remember that this will result in better treatment of prisoners overall, since they can also check on other activities, not just drug trials. The money is not wasted here.
  • Con tries to disconnect my argument by saying giving money is not the same as giving a reduced sentence, but he basically gives up here and admits that there are ways to know when informed consent doesn't exist. Some people think money's going to be the driving factor. Yet the research shows it isn't. He thinks that reduced sentence combined with drug test is a great motivator. But he doesn't support this idea. You might be smuggling drugs in secret regardless of the drug trials. So the experiments would just be an additional test that helps the public and do nothing to heap upon negatives. It's not a unique motivator to go deeper into your dark path. Nobody said the drugs will be even more addicting and harmful. In fact, they might be researching which medicine *cures* addiction! 
  • Con's negative view of prisoners bolsters my argument concerning stigmatization. He would encourage the prisoners to keep locking them up and assuming they will never change. While my view is that they can help others and get a little something back in return, realizing the errors of their ways, without going even more insane like Con proposes. Remember that Con still has no actual evidence that locking them up helps prevent them committing crimes again. And the rehabilitation will also prevent damages in the long run. 

That's a nice summary of how to cherrypick and misinterpret this debate if one were looking out only for ways to twist it to seem like I failed via confirmation bias on their part.

How about I sum up my success? Since Pro has done a good job summing up my supposed failures.

In this debate, Pro tells you that science will gain discoveries from prisoners volunteering themselves as guinea pigs to test on, in exchange for reduced sentences.

I said, sure they will, the problem is ethical not scientific. I elaborate on how they can't possibly give genuine consent (because they can't relinquish consent truly if you understood how helplessly they want to escape prison). 

To this, Pro keeps trying to reiterate that a single (yes, only one) very niche case study of UK prisons opting-out of a suggested scheme that was carried out in a tiny scale to later carry out on a big scale of offering prisoners money (which they could use in prison tuck shop system as well as save for later on once free) that the main reason it was opted against wasn't their consent or coercion.

That not only was explained as overall irrelevant by myself, it was actively addressed as a situation where the main reason happened to not be the coercion, that was still a factor. 

Now, money isn't the same as reduced sentence. Money buys you a little luxury in prison, we are talking about reducing the actual sentence a criminal is supposed to be serving for the crime they committed. I have done a decent job explaining it in this debate, in my opinion. It's written up there so unlike a spoken debate I gain very little by wasting both your (readers') and my (writer's) time on repeating it.