Drug Tests Administered By Prison Staff Aren't Much Better Than The Terrible Ones Deployed By Cops

from the zero-incentive-to-solve-the-problem dept

Faulty drug tests deployed by law enforcement continue to ruin lives. Usually, it’s cheap field tests used by officers during traffic stops that turn legal substances into illegal substances, resulting in hefty criminal charges for people who’ve never used drugs, much less carried them around in their cars.

The current faulty drug test debacle isn’t likely to generate as much sympathy or result in wide-ranging investigations of drug testing tech. These drug tests are negatively affecting people who are already locked up, which isn’t quite as disturbing as minor moving violations escalating into felony drug charges.

But it’s still disturbing, even if it isn’t taking innocent people off the streets. Documents leaked to Gothamist show hundreds of inmates have been subjected to harsher punishments, extended sentences, and loss of privileges thanks to drug tests corrections officials knew were unreliable.

New York state corrections officials believe that approximately 2,000 prisoners were subject to a flawed drug test that produced false positives and led to increased punishment across the state, according to documents obtained by WNYC/Gothamist.

The problem may have been caused by a chemical mishap known as “cross reactivity,” which can lead to a clean subject falsely appearing to have used drugs, the documents say.

Roughly 300 prisoners were affected at the Fishkill Correctional Facility alone, according to a staff memo.

In one case reported by the New York Daily News, an inmate in a drug treatment program saw his time in the New York correctional system turned into a complete nightmare by inaccurate drug tests.

Anthony Cortes was in school at New York’s Willard Correctional Facility’s drug treatment campus in early March when he got called for a routine drug test.

[O]fficials told him the test came back positive for Buprenorphine, a medication commonly prescribed to treat opioid addiction. He was booted from Willard’s program, transferred to Five Points Correctional Facility and thrown into solitary confinement. A second drug test in April came back with the same results and more time in isolation.

Yet by mid-September — following nearly 200 days in solitary and four and a half months after his scheduled release — officials realized they had made a grave error.

Cortes is now suing the state over its use of faulty drug tests and the deleterious effect it had on his incarceration. Cortes isn’t the only one suing over these tests. Courthouse News Service reports a class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of an unknown number of inmates who have been punished for “failing” faulty drug tests.

[Nazeda] Steele-Warrick, who lives in Queens, filed a federal class action Wednesday against two diagnostic companies whose drug tests she says produced false positives, leading to punishment for inmates who were in fact clean. The 36-year-old former inmate sued Delaware-based Microgenics Corporation, which makes clinical diagnostic products, and Thermo Fisher Scientific, which manufactured the urine-analysis drug tests.

According to Warrick’s lawsuit [PDF], the state’s Department of Corrections later confirmed the test results jailers used to strip her of privileges were erroneous. But before that happened, this happened:

Individuals assigned to keeplock have limited access to their property, packages, telephones, correspondence, and visitors, and their commissary privileges are suspended, pending a disciplinary determination.

Ms. Steele-Warrick felt tremendous shame and humiliation as she was marched away in handcuffs past her peers and friends.

Unlike her private room, which had a door she could self-close and open, Ms. Steele-Warrick’s keeplock cell was behind locked and secured steel bars. The room had only a locker, sink, and toilet. It did not have the night stand, radio, or closet that Ms. Steele-Warrick had in her private room. Her meals were delivered through a “feed-up slot” in the bars.

Ms. Steele-Warrick did not have access to any of her belongings in her keeplock cell. Her first day there, she could not access her toothbrush, shampoo, or soap. Although she eventually obtained those items, she did not have any of her other personal belongings, including her books or magazines.

While Ms. Steele-Warrick was confined in keeplock, correction officers emptied out her private room, searching and cataloguing all of her personal belongings and securing away most of it in storage.

A package of food from Ms. Steele-Warrick’s husband arrived while she was in keeplock, and correction officers confiscated all the fresh vegetables and produce, later leaving Ms. Steele-Warrick with only a couple of canned items.

The false positive also had the potential to disrupt Warrick’s immigration proceedings, which relied on her being able to demonstrate she was not dangerous person in order to continue living with her family. It also caused her to be cut off from her family when her visitation rights were revoked.

This isn’t new and this isn’t limited to New York. Prisoners in Washington have filed enough complaints the Department of Corrections is finally allowing challenged test results to be retested. And in 2013, New York’s top court gave a probationer permission to sue drug testing equipment manufacturers directly for the faulty drug test that resulted in the revocation of his release.

Meanwhile, drug testing equipment aimed at visitors to correctional facilities are generating false positives that punish both inmates and their families.

The ion scanners devices are designed to detect trace amounts of particles. Correctional Service Canada has placed these devices in the lobbies and mailrooms of some of its prisons in a bid to reduce the flow of drugs into its facilities.

The devices are extremely sensitive, and MOMS [Mothers Offering Mutual Support] says in its petition that the scanners set off false positive readings at an “alarming” rate.

Anne Cattral, whose son is incarcerated at Ontario’s Warkworth Institution, said she has lost count of the times she has tested positive for morphine, hash, opium and heroin. She follows a rigorous regime of washing, cleansing coins and jewelry and driving with plastic gloves before visiting the prison to limit the chances of a false reading.

Cattral said a positive test can lead to the visit being denied. It is also recorded on an offender’s file, affecting future private family visits, transfers, and parole, she said.

It may well be the country’s correctional services know they’re working with unreliable equipment. But the best kind of deniability is the plausible kind.

[CSC spokesperson Esther Mailhot] said CSC does not collect data on false positives in testing.

Yeah. You don’t want to be doing that. That only helps litigants suing the CSC and does nothing at all for CSC officials who don’t like to be sued.

It’s your word against theirs (the government’s) out in the free world. Once you’re incarcerated, you pretty much don’t even have your word any more. If someone convicted on drug charges tests positive for drugs, everyone just assumes everything is working correctly, even if it actually isn’t. Maybe these lawsuits will alter this assumption just a tiny bit.

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