The arbitrary penalties were meted out across the state over an eight-month period in 2019, while the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision relied on improperly administered drug tests made by the company Microgenics, the report found.
Written by Karen Zraick
New York’s prison system unjustly penalized more than 1,600 incarcerated people based on faulty drug tests, putting them in solitary confinement, delaying their parole hearings and denying them family visits, the New York state inspector general said in a damning report released Tuesday.
The arbitrary penalties were meted out across the state over an eight-month period in 2019, while the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision relied on improperly administered drug tests made by the company Microgenics, the report found. The tests led to “rampant false positive” results for buprenorphine, an opioid used to treat addiction, as well as synthetic cannabinoids.
“This stands as a heartbreaking example of how the absence of transparency can undermine due process and basic human rights,” Lucy Lang, the inspector general, said at a news conference Tuesday.
The department started using the tests in January 2019, the report found. The manufacturer’s directions specified that a positive result should be confirmed with a second, more sensitive test, but officials neglected to do so as a matter of policy. Instead, they simply carried out the same test a second time to confirm the results.
The rate of positive tests immediately spiked, but the department failed to address widespread concerns among incarcerated people, their families and advocates that many of the results were false positives, the report found.
The report cited several examples of the grave consequences the tests had for incarcerated people. One woman at Albion Correctional Facility, near Rochester, New York, who had never tested positive for drug use during her two years in jail, suddenly tested positive for synthetic cannabinoids.
As punishment, she was confined to her cell for 40 days and placed in solitary confinement for 45 days. She lost her prison job and privileges like recreation time, receipt of packages and phone use for months. She was also denied visits with her three children.
The report also accused Microgenics representatives of presenting false or misleading information to prison officials. A review of internal company documents revealed that even ingesting over-the-counter antacids and the sweetener Stevia could potentially lead to false positives, but the company failed to disclose those possibilities, the report said.
The report faulted department officials for deciding to forgo the second test and found that a sales representative from Microgenics had exerted undue influence over the process.
It also found that the contract with the company most likely violated procurement guidelines and that the department “did not perform due diligence when contracting with Microgenics for its drug-testing systems, failing to understand that such tests were merely preliminary screening tests.”