Thousands of people in New York state prisons have received false positive drug test results, leading to punishments for many of them, including solitary confinement, longer sentences, delayed parole hearings and family visitation privleges revoked, according to the results of an investigation made public Monday by state Inspector General Lucy Lang.
At issue are drug testing policies that were put in place in 2019, using tests that ultimately were found to be unreliable and produced "rampant" false positives, the inspector general said.
The investigation faulted the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision for failing to fully investigate the reason behind a spike in positive test results since the use of testing by Microgenics began in January 2019 and ended that August.
The department also failed to take corrective action after discovering the tests produced false positive results at a high rate. The department first alerted the state inspector general's office to a potential problem with the testing in September 2019.
The investigation led to 2,500 disciplinary records being expunged as well as privileges being reinstated. At the same time, the use of solitary confinement has been restricted as a punishment for testing positive in a drug test.
“The fact that incarcerated New Yorkers were further deprived of their liberty without cause or due process is devastating,” Lang said. “While those individuals who were aggrieved by this flawed testing program cannot get back the time or liberties that were unjustifiably taken from them, I am encouraged that DOCCS has taken steps to rectify these injustices and recognized that the use of solitary confinement as a potential sanction for drug use disciplinary violations should be prohibited. My office will continue to diligently monitor this program to ensure that the reforms outlined in our report continue to be implemented. I am proud of the incredibly thorough work done by members of my office to not only find out what happened here, but how it happened, and how to ensure that it never happens again. We owe more to community members in our state facilities.”
A spokesman for the corrections department in a statement pointed to prison officials alerting the inspector general to problems with Microgenics testing and potential false positives.
"The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision alerted the Office of the Inspector General when staff became concerned that the Microgenics drug testing units it procured might be incorrectly indicating false positives," the department said in a statement. "DOCCS staff fully cooperated throughout the IG investigation and, as noted in the report, DOCCS has adopted and is implementing all of the Inspector General’s recommendations. We appreciate the thoroughness of the investigation as DOCCS strives to run fair, safe and secure facilities across the state."