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Faulty drug tests lead to wrongful discipline of over 2,000 inmates

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  • Staff Report 

State inspectors have found that more than 2,000 incarcerated individuals in New York prisons were wrongly disciplined based on faulty drug test results. The NARK II test kits, used by the state prison system from 2016 to 2020, were only intended for preliminary screening and required lab confirmation for accuracy.

However, unlike other states, New York failed to follow this crucial step, leading to false-positive results and unjust punishments for inmates, including solitary confinement and suspension of family visitations.

The flawed usage of these drug tests, manufactured by Sirchie Finger Print Laboratories, was revealed after inconsistencies in test instructions were identified. The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) reported these issues in August 2020. This led to a comprehensive investigation, uncovering that prison workers did not adhere to proper protocols, and the test manufacturer provided inconsistent and sometimes incorrect usage instructions. As a result, state officials have since expunged or modified disciplinary records for thousands of affected inmates, and the state Board of Parole conducted new reviews for some cases.

In response to the investigation findings, New York prison officials implemented corrective measures. By October 2021, the prison system contracted with NMS Labs to provide confirmatory testing for all presumptive positive drug test results. Sirchie, the test maker, acknowledged errors in some instructions but claimed these discrepancies did not impact the accuracy of results. The issue has also prompted legal action; in Massachusetts, an incarcerated person and a parolee filed a lawsuit against Sirchie and another test manufacturer, alleging constitutional rights violations. This case remains pending in federal court.