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Texas Parole Board Revamps Urinalysis Procedures

The Texas Parole Board is replacing its old, error-prone drug testing procedure with a new method it says will reduce mistakes and provide for independent confirmation of positive test results?something that has been unavailable in the past.

Some aspects of the testing procedure will remain familiar. As always, parolees being tested for illicit drug use will urinate in a plastic specimen cup under the watchful eyes of a parole officer. What will change, however, is the technology. With the new testing procedure, officially announced on June 22, 2007, parolees will be handed a special, chemically coated specimen cup designed to change color in order to quickly indicate a result.

?We won?t have to have officers doing the tests like they do now,? said state parole director Bryan Collier. ?The offenders will hold the cup, put on the lid, shake it and can see the result right there.?

Under the current procedure, which has drawn criticism for producing false-positives and possibly sending sober parolees back to prison, parole officers collect the samples, which are then tested by other state employees using special machines?a process that can take days or even weeks to get a result. And in the smaller, more remote offices, parole officials actually perform the tests themselves using machines or chemically sensitive sticks, also called quick screening samples, which are notorious for producing false-positives.

What?s more, the current system in most cases provides no means of confirming positive test results through an independent lab, the current industry standard.

?Samples are thrown away in most cases after the test is run, so there?s no way to check for an error,? said Sean Buckley, a Houston parole attorney.

In addition, if the test comes back positive, ?they just run it through the same machine again,? said Bill Habern, a Houston attorney who also specializes in parole cases. ?That?s no independent verification, no independent anything.?

The new method was approved after a successful trial in the Temple, Texas, parole region.

?We?ve heard no complaints about this new test method,? said Collier. ?It addresses the two big issues we?ve had with the current system: We get the results almost immediately, and we don?t have the arguments over the result because we can ship the sample off to an independent lab for verification.?

Prison officials are also considering the new procedure for the tens of thousands of urinalyses they perform every year on Texas prisoners.
It?s unknown how much the new tests will cost, but they probably won?t be cheap. In 2006 the state parole board spent over $1 million to conduct urinalysis testing on more than 315,000 parolees.

Source: Austin American-Statesman

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