NYS Inspector General report reveals rampant false-positive drug test results in state prisons led to undue punishment

New England

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The New York State Inspector General, Lucy Lang, announced the findings of a multi-year investigation Tuesday morning at Empire State Plaza. The report from the IG’s Office revealed that the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) administered faulty tests and changed policies that go against scientific research.

Hundreds of incarcerated New Yorkers received false positive drug test results in 2019, which led to undue punishments that jeopardized some of their release dates or put them in solitary confinement. 

The IG’s report stated the issue started in October 2018 when DOCCS awarded a five-year contract for drug testing incarcerated individuals in NYS prisons to a company called Microgenics.

Since 1999, DOCCS had previously utilized Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics for testing products, and the policy required a second test to confirm a positive result.

“The manufacturer instructions clearly indicated that these tests are only designed to provide preliminary results. And that any positive results should be verified using a second more sensitive method.”

DOCCS began implementing Microgenics urines test kits across its 52 correctional facilities starting in January 2019. DOCCS also dropped the previously established policy of double-checking positive results before issuing punishments.

“As soon as DOCCS began using the Microgenics tests, they saw a spike in positive tests,” Lang said.

According to the IG’s report, Microgenics failed to disclose internal research documents that discovered issues with its urinalysis test to DOCCS. This research revealed that something as small as an antacid pill for heartburn or a sugar substitute in coffee could produce a false positive.

As the Microgenics tests were administered to thousands of incarcerated New Yorkers in 2019, concerned letters and calls from those who received inaccurate positive results flooded organizations begging for help.

“They were absolutely panicked. They knew that the consequences of these false positives was huge,” Bianca Tylek, Executive Director of Worth Rises, said.

Some had their parole delayed, while others lost privileges to see their families or spent months in solitary confinement. 

Tylek said the decision for DOCCS to use Microgenics and change their double test policy all came down to the bottom line.

“How do we put a value on that missed call?” Tylek asked. “An extra day in solitary? An extra day in prison? However we do, DOCCS and Microgenics must be responsible.”

Lang said state prisons have stopped using Microgenics testing and no longer are permitted to use solitary confinement as a punishment for positive drug test results. As for who will be held responsible? Several lawsuits are still pending against Microgenics and DOCCS.

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