Tuesday, May 20, 2008

False tests?

Oh for crying out loud can't this situation be solved, if it exists at all?

No one really wants to put someone into prison or a rehab facility or program if the test results are really incorrect.

Commissioners please fix the situation.

Urine tests — problem for probation office or probationers?
by Elizabeth Allen: Express-News (SA Hearsay Blog)

A lawyer and some probation officers are waving the caution flag over what they say is a spike in false positive urine tests for drugs.

Probation Chief Bill Fitzgerald says they're not false, just better.
"I know a couple of probation officers have been stirring stuff up — unfounded again, I might add," Fitzgerald said. "The whole essence of it is the test is more sensitive."

Sheri Simonelli, president of the local probation officers' union, Central Texas Association of Public Employees, and lawyer Jimmy Parks stood before reporters in the scrappy shade outside the Bexar County Justice Center Monday afternoon to say they fear that probationers working hard to toe the line and straighten out their lives will be unjustly thrown into the slammer.

"This hurts a lot of people," Simonelli said. "This loses jobs, families ..."

"I've been like a voice crying out in the wilderness," Parks said. "People accuse these defendants of being whiners, of being criminals."

Neither Simonelli nor Parks could say if anyone had been jailed based on a false positive.
"We've put together a strike team of lawyers" to deal with this, he said.

The Bexar County Community Supervision and Corrections Department this year began contracting with Alcohol & Drug Treatment Associates to handle the urine tests that have bedeviled it before.

When the department was handling it, thousands of samples had to be dumped because they had gotten too old to be valid. Then the powers that be said the shelf life of a urine sample was longer than they previously believed. They began contracting with a company that picked the samples up, and now have hired the company that has the probationers going elsewhere to pee in a cup.

Simonelli and Parks said their proof is that confirmation tests have shown numerous positives to be false.

Fitzgerald said that when a confirmation test is requested on the offending sample, it is sent elsewhere, where the test is not so sensitive, so it makes sense that it would come back negative in that case.

But it's not just a sensitivity issue, Simonelli and Parks said. Many people are testing positive for drugs they don't even use, they said.

One probationer tested positive for cocaine, Simonelli said, and said, "Hey, I'm a heroin addict, you know that."

Fitzgerald scoffed at that.

"It's not like us, if we walk into a restaurant and you want to see the wine list," Fitzgerald said. "The majority of these guys don't have a drug of choice, and they'll do any type of drug out there.

"It's not like you go out there and say I want a 1963 shot of heroin," he continued. "And they don't always tell the truth, too."

When pressed for examples of clients who had suffered from false positives, Parks said he has several, but that prosecutors had backed off from revoking their probation so they're happy to let it dangle.

"Their first and most important goal is to not go to prison," Parks said. "Not to justify Jimmy Parks, not to save the world."