In 2021, scandals of sexual misconduct, a coverup of nursing home deaths and favoritism among the inner circle brought down Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration in the most public way possible. It was there for all to see on their televisions and computers. You couldn’t avoid it.

Two and a half years ago, the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision’s drug testing vendor Microgenics Corporation did work that led to rampant numbers of false-positive drug tests from January through August 2019, which the department did not verify.

Unlike Cuomo’s fall, this did not unfold in public view. It took place in a world of steel bars, concrete walls and barbed-wire fences.

DOCCS could face legal action or penalties after thousands of incarcerated New Yorkers were unduly punished when Microgenics gave false positives for the opioid buprenorphine, resulting in improperly revoked family visits, delayed parole or time in solitary confinement, according to a report issued Tuesday by state Inspector General Lucy Lang.

We’ve learned this was done without proper legal or scientific review. We’ve learned that even after DOCCS received a significant number of complaints of false positives, including from long-term inmates who had never before tested positive for illegal drugs, DOCCS took no steps to seek outside confirmation of the test results. We’ve learned DOCCS used only preliminary results as the basis to punish hundreds of incarcerated New Yorkers.

Since then, Microgenics revealed certain over-the-counter medications, or natural sweeteners and sugar substitutes, could produce false-positive results that could be verified by a more sensitive confirmation test.

More than 1,600 state inmates suffered the consequences of preliminary false-positive results for the presence of the opioid buprenorphine. They lost privileges including receipt of packages, commissary and telephone use, confinement to their cells, delays in parole eligibility or missed scheduled parole interviews, loss of access to prison rehabilitation programs and loss of family visitation.

DOCCS entered a drug testing leasing agreement with Microgenics as a cost-saving measure. Its former agreement with Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics Inc. cost about $590,000 annually while Microgenics drug testing systems cost about $320,000 per year.

You would think that what could be seen as human rights abuses would draw a response from DOCCS. It didn’t happen. Department representatives would not answer questions about Microgenics and drug testing protocols, the department’s decision to use Microgenics in the first place, how DOCCS is correcting the improper discipline or how officials will make sure this does not happen again.

DOCCS also may have violated state Finance Law when contracting for commodities and services and procuring drug testing equipment for its Incarcerated Individual Drug Testing Program. The report and relevant evidence has been sent to the state Attorney General’s Office, pending further charges or penalties.

The prison drug-testing mess will stand as another black eye for New York state. We look to the people who watch over the state’s inmates to take a higher road and treat them like men and women who, whether you agree or disagree, have rights.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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