Washington: Prisoners’ Complaints Lead to Changes in DOC’s Drug Testing Policy
by Chad Marks
After two unidentified prisoners complained that they were being punished based on faulty drug test results, the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) made changes to its testing policies.
One prisoner was subjected to a drug test in September 2018. He had been admitted to the prison in July and contended that a positive drug test for THC was a result of using marijuana not while in prison but prior to his incarceration. DOC officials rejected that reasoning and denied him work release; they also confined him to his cell for 30 days, took 30 days of his good conduct time and transferred him to another facility three hours away from his pregnant fiancée.
The prisoner filed a complaint with Washington’s Office of Corrections Ombuds, which was established to investigate issues involving state prisons. The Ombuds then began reviewing the DOC’s drug testing policies. Another prisoner also filed a complaint with the Ombuds office, alleging he was cited for a positive drug test that was erroneous.
The second prisoner had a history of positive drug test results due to his prescribed medications. He passed a random drug test in November 2018, but not long after that result he was tested again. That test came back positive for a synthetic drug often referred to as “spice.” As a result, the prisoner “lost his visits, work-release, good time, privileges and was reclassified,” the Ombuds office stated in a report. However, the Ombuds concluded that his complaint was unsubstantiated as there was no way to reanalyze the urine sample.
According to a March 27, 2019 news report, the DOC has since implemented a new policy that does not allow testing for THC until after prisoners have been in the prison system for over 45 days. Additionally, prison officials are seeking a private lab to conduct confirmation tests when prisoners challenge drug testing results. If the re-testing confirms the original positive result, however, the prisoner has to pay for the confirmation test.
Before the policy change, Washington was one of only three states that did not allow for confirmation tests following positive prison drug testing results.
“False positive drug tests do occur, and people shouldn’t be punished because of it,” said Mark Cooke, policy director for the ACLU of Washington’s Campaign for Smart Justice. Hopefully, the DOC’s new drug testing policy will ensure that prisoners are not unfairly punished for drug use that occurred prior to their incarceration.