Permission and approval

Prisoners, young offenders or probation services?

The Offender Health Research Network has published very comprehensive guidance on health research involving the criminal justice system. If you are planning research in this area - even if it is not directly health related, we would recommend you read the following of their publications:

Guidance on their website also highlights the particular ethics considerations involved in research within the criminal justice system.  Freedom of consent can easily be undermined for prisoners and those in the probation or youth offending system, which means these individuals may be more vulnerable to exploitation or abuse by researchers.  In addition, they note that learning disabilities, illiteracy and language barriers are prevalent within these populations.  The prevalence of these characteristics alongside the power differential between researcher and potential participant means that particular care will be needed to ensure that valid - freely given and fully informed - consent can be achieved.

The OHRN Toolkit also provides helpful flowcharts which set out the permissions required for research involving the police, courts, prison, or probation services.  The key points in relation to prisons, youth offending or probation services are summarised below.

Research that involves prisons, youth offending or probation services requires approval through the National Offender Management Service (NOMS).  The NOMS research website provides guidance on how to apply, and links to the application form that you need to complete.  Who you apply to depends on the location and scope of your research:

  • If the research involves one establishment/probation office, you should apply to the governor or research contact in that establishment.
  • If the research involves more than one establishment within a single Prison Service Area, you need to apply to the Regional Psychologist for that area.  There are 10 regional areas, and an 11th Prison Service Area that has responsibility for High Security Prisons.
  • If the research spans more than one Prison Service Area, you should apply directly to the NOMS National Research Committee.
  • For research described as National Strategic Research - defined as research to be published by the Home Office or sent to Ministers, research that will cost more than £10,000 or more than 30 staff working days - you need to apply to NOMS Research, Development and Statistics.
  • Research that is national in scope also requires Ministry of Justice approval, which can be secured through the Integrated Research Application System (IRAS).