Ohio DOC Director Wants Return to Stricter Law after 2012 Spike in Positive Drug Tests
Drug testing in Ohio prisons in October 2012 revealed the highest level of prisoner drug use in more than a decade, though the head of the state corrections department blamed the spike in positive drug tests on the testing itself at one state prison.
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) Director Gary C. Mohr said in January 2013, when the results of the annual “saturation” drug tests conducted throughout the state prison system were released, that the figures were skewed because one unidentified facility had targeted so-called “likely” drug users instead of administering the tests randomly as required.
Regardless, Mohr acknowledged that didn’t detract from the fact that drug use in Ohio prisons was growing and, according to the Columbus Dispatch, insisted he was making no excuses and was taking steps to reduce the prevalence of drugs in state facilities.
“When we see an increase,” Mohr said, “it’s taken very seriously.”
A total of 6,828 prisoners at 28 ODRC facilities were tested in October 2012, with 227 – or 3.32% – returning positive results. Most tested positive for marijuana, though positive tests were also returned for opiates, cocaine and alcohol. The percentage of positive tests was almost twice what it was in 2011, when 120 of 6,908 prisoners (1.74%) tested positive.
“That is too high and absolutely unacceptable as part of security of a prison,” Mohr stated.
Since ODRC began random drug testing, statewide results have ranged from a high of 6.9% in 1990 to a low of .82% in 2006. The largest increase in the 2012 test results occurred in facilities where prisoners go outside the fences to work on prison farms.
Todd Ishee, one of Mohr’s four regional directors, said most drugs enter prisons over walls and fences, when people on the outside toss them into yards where they are then picked up by waiting prisoners. In response, the ODRC is installing more lights, cameras and motion detectors, increasing perimeter patrols and using drug-sniffing dogs.
Mohr admitted, however, that drugs are also smuggled in by employees. Ishee noted that prisons are doing a better job of confiscating drugs; he said the confiscation rate was 26.5 per 1,000 prisoners in 2011, compared to just 10.5 per 1,000 in 2007.
Apparently, neither Mohr, Ishee nor any other ODRC official proposed an increase in drug treatment programs for prisoners. Rather, Mohr said he would lobby state lawmakers to correct what he considers a shortcoming in the state’s 1996 flat-sentencing law, which mandated the length of prison sentences regardless of a prisoner’s conduct. Mohr wants the legislature to reinstate “bad time” for prisoners who commit certain offenses while incarcerated.
“If an inmate is caught in possession of drugs, they are written up, and their security level is increased,” Mohr stated. “But they’re going home the same day the judge [initially] sentenced them to.... A threat of having a significant increase in their sentence is a deterrent that does not exist.”
Other alternatives that the ODRC could consider include increasing in-prison substance abuse programs and vigorously prosecuting employees who smuggle drugs.
According to the ODRC’s annual saturation drug testing conducted in October 2013, the percentage of positive drug tests dropped to an average 2.23% systemwide (142 positives out of 6,364 tests performed) – which, although an improvement over the 2012 results, is still fairly high. Positive test results at individual prisons ranged from zero percent at several facilities to 14.11% at the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America. [See: PLN, Nov. 2014, p.44; Nov. 2012, p.16].
Sources: Columbus Dispatch, ODRC Saturation Drug Testing Results (Oct. 2013)
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