Pubdate: Wed, 18 Aug 1999
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 1999 Mercury Center
Author: Spyros Andreopoulos
Related: and


AS a medical writer generally familiar with the work of Stanford psychiatry
professor Hans Steiner, I feel compelled to come to his defense.

His critics quoted in ``Stanford tested drug on young inmates'' (Page 1A,
Aug. 17) would have been better informed if they had read his study,
``Personality traits in juvenile delinquents to criminal behavior and
recidivism'' in the March 1999 Journal of the American Academy of Child and
Adolescent Psychiatry. Based on my reading of the study, ethicist Arthur
Caplan's contention that ``Stanford clearly was in there without appropriate
consent'' is clearly false.

Young persons were told their participation was voluntary and confidential
and that they could withdraw without penalty at any time. They were
reassured the information obtained would be unavailable to their parole
board or influence their status at the California Youth Authority. A senior
clinician interviewed each young person to evaluate mental health status for
the purpose of determining competency to give consent.

And each person completed a short questionnaire in an adjacent room under
guard supervision (although the guards were not in a position to read or
hear responses). Participants were also told they could withdraw from the
study at any time and some in fact did.

Beyond the uninformed criticism, however, is the issue of juvenile justice
and why research is important.

In the past three decades, judicial decisions and state laws of questionable
validity have transformed the handling of juvenile offenders from a
nominally rehabilitative approach to one that is strictly punitive,
providing neither therapy nor justice.

What we have as a result is a revolving door cycle -- incarceration, parole,
back to prison and the need to build more prisons.

The California Youth Authority's efforts to address the need for
rehabilitation programs through research designed to understand the nature
and causes of delinquent behavior should be applauded.

And if our state laws, as you indicate, are confusing and stand in the way,
the proper course is for the California Legislature to take notice and
clarify them.

Spyros Andreopoulos Director emeritus, Office of Communications Stanford
University Medical Center

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