Magazine article Corrections Forum

Managing the Workplace Drug Testing Process

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Managing the Workplace Drug Testing Process

Article excerpt

Correctional facilities have an enormous responsibility in not only ensuring that inmates are drug-free, but also, perhaps more importantly, that employees are drug- and alcohol-free. Policies vary across state Department of Corrections (DOCs) across the nation. Some only test employees under a "reasonable suspicion" rule based on observable behavior. Some test employees randomly, as often as every month, while others set drug testing dates.

Testing methods also differ from state to state. Some DOCs test corrections employees by sending them to a walk-in 24-hour health clinic to give a urine specimen that is sent to a state-certified lab for testing. Others utilize facility medical personnel to collect urine specimens from employees. While yet others use a one-step urine collection cap that tests it and provides results immediately. At least one state sends urine samples to its own DOC lab.

Various DoC Policies


"Our employee drug testing procedure gives our Director the authority to determine the percentage of employees randomly tested yearly," explains Larry Traylor, director of communications, Virginia DoC, Richmond, Va. "Each month a designated number of employees are randomly selected by a Third Party Administrator [TPA]. Our TPA also provides collection site identification and management, lab account setup, drug testing at Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA] certified laboratories, complete medical review officer services including medical review, management consultation and expert witness testimony if required."

All the drug tests are laboratorybased and results are sent from the laboratory via electronic download to the TPA. The TPA records the results and reports them to a designated DOC contact via email or by providing access to a secure website.

"The test results are accurate. An initial laboratory testing methodology utilizes enzyme immunoassay technology, which tests for traces of specific drugs. Positive test results are confirmed by using a more sensitive testing methodology-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry [GC/MS] for urine screens and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry/mass spectrometry [GC/MS/MS] for oral fluid/saliva testing. Both urine and oral fluid/saliva testing have a legally defensible chain of custody process," states Traylor.

Virginia DoC's drug testing procedure allows for a positive test result to be challenged by the employee. When the Medical Review Officer (MRO) contacts the donor to discuss the positive test results, the donor is advised that he/she has 72 hours to request that the sample be sent to another laboratory for testing.


"At the Pennsylvania DoC, all supervisory staff is required to be trained in what constitutes reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion is based on observable behavior. Staff trained in reasonable suspicion may require an employee to submit to a controlled substance and/or alcohol test if he/she believes the employee has violated the controlled substance or alcohol prohibitions," explains Susan McNaughton.

Employees who test positive for drugs and/or alcohol will not be permitted to work. All employees testing positive for either drugs or alcohol will be subject to unannounced follow-up tests.


The Kentucky DoC began randomly testing its employees in January 2006. Prior testing was based on reasonable suspicion. All DoC employees at all facilities, including probation and parole officers, are tested four times a year.

"DOC employees are very pleased with the random testing program," says John Rees, Kentucky Corrections Commissioner. "They don't want to work with somebody who's high."

Rees acknowledges that if an employee comes to the DOC and requests help for his/her alcohol or drug addiction, he/she will be referred to treatment. If an employee doesn't take advantage of this opportunity to obtain treatment and fails a random drug test, then it's too late; he/she will be fired. …

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