A multi-week computer glitch by private drug testing firm Jail Alternatives for Michigan Services (JAMS) wrongly accused hundreds of pre-trial defendants of failing to show for court ordered drug testing.
When her office failed to receive notice of positive and negative test results and only no show notices, Dana O’Neal, a supervisor at Oakland County pre-trial services, suspected something was awry. Her attempts to resolve the issue with JAMS went nowhere initially.
“She saw something was up, she contacted JAMS and tried to make them aware of the problem”, said Barbara Hankey, manager of Oakland County community Corrections. “It was a couple of weeks after we notified them before the conversations started.”
On September 17, O’Neal sent a notice to Oakland County Judges to inform them that between August 26 and September 11, “the JAMS drug and alcohol testing agency experienced a software issue resulting in false reports of no show tests.”
“As a result, ‘failure to appear’ notifications were sent out by our department for tests that were actually completed”, stated O’Neal’s notice. About 200 people were listed as failing to take drug tests during the relevant period.
“Any no show is sanctionable”, said O’Neal. “And most judges are more likely to sanction on a no-show report because it just shows the defendant did not go to test”. When O’Neal began getting calls from judges and attorneys about the no shows, she knew she needed to act. “Clearly at that JAMS had not communicated anything out to the court”.
Inaccurate test results by JAMS pushed Troy District Judge Kristen Nielsen Hartig to prohibit defendants from using JAMS months before the latest glitch. She said the scope of the problem is the unregulated for profit drug testing industry. “The problem is not just JAMS”, said Hartig. This is the underbelly of the criminal justice system”.
It is a very lucrative business. Most testing companies charge an average of $25 per test, found a 2014 Human Rights Report titled “Profiting from Probation”.
O’Neal said her office is “working diligently to correct these inaccurate reports”. In the meantime, she cautioned the judges to verify information. “It is strongly recommended that prior to negative consequences being imposed that all tests be confirmed with our office”.
Sources: www.metrotimes.com; Detroit Free Press
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