The Drug-Testing Regime in US Prisons

The Drug-Testing Regime in US Prisons

By Seth Ferranti 08/23/12

From 5 am onwards, you're always subject to urine tests inside, prisoners say—especially if you're on the "hot list."

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Typically around 1500 prisoners reside on any prison compound in the country, and—as casualties of the War on Drugs—most of them are addicts and alcoholics, who will do whatever they can to get high inside. So drug testing and breathalyzers are frequently employed by prison authorities. "They select prisoners randomly for piss tests," a prisoner tells The Fix. "But you can also be on the hot list—and then it's a sure bet you're getting pissed every month, whenever they want." Officers can put you on the hot list if they have any reason to suspect you're using. Usually, compound officers will conduct the urinalysis and collect the samples. They do this at different times—often waking prisoners up early in the morning after the 5 am count, to get what they consider a good, undiluted urine sample. But they also conduct the tests throughout the day and after the 4 pm stand-up count.

"When you here your name called over the PA system with a bunch of others and you're all told to report to the Lieutenant's office, you know what's up," the prisoner says. "It's a piss test for sure." Prisoners have two hours from the time when their name is called to urinate in the cup. If not, they can be thrown in the hole for refusal to take the test. "They got those fancy cups too," the prisoner says. "The ones that register right away and tell what drugs you're dirty for. But there're a lot of false positives." The guards wear gloves and keep everything sealed until the prisoner is ready to urinate, but still, it's not a perfect system. "One of my homeboys got locked up on a false positive, but when they sent it out to the lab, he beat it," the prisoner says. "There're ways to beat them too, but that's another story."