Massachusetts Prison System Sued Over Unreliable Drug Tests That Put Inmates in Solitary
A new class action lawsuit accuses the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (DOC) of using a notoriously unreliable field test to detect contraband drugs. The suit argues that this has put people in solitary confinement for offenses they didn’t commit and led to public defenders being falsely accused of sending drug-tainted mail to their clients.
The lawsuit, filed in state court by Justice Catalyst Law and the law firm BraunHagey & Borden, says that the DOC uses tests developed by the company Sirchie to detect synthetic cannabinoids even though those tests have an error rate so high that they’re akin to “witchcraft, phrenology or simply picking a number out of a hat.”
“We brought this lawsuit to protect disempowered people incarcerated by the DOC from the unconscionable decision to use these tests in the face of overwhelming evidence of their inaccuracy,” Ellen Leonida, a partner at BraunHagey & Borden, said in a press release. “We also intend to hold the drug companies liable for knowingly profiting from the misuse of these tests and the misery they are causing.”
As Reason reported earlier this year, problematic drug field test kits are manufactured by several different companies and are used by police departments and prison systems across the country. The test kits use instant color reactions to indicate the presence of certain compounds found in illegal drugs, but those same compounds are also found in dozens of known licit substances.
Over the years, hundreds of wrongful arrests have been based on these field tests. Last year in Georgia, a college football quarterback was arrested after bird poop on his car tested positive for cocaine. In prison systems, where officials are trying to stop a flood of contraband drugs such as the synthetic cannabinoids known as “K2” or “spice,” inmates can be placed in solitary confinement and be stripped of good behavior credits, visitations, and other privileges.
The manufacturers warn that the results of these tests need to be verified, and Massachusetts prisons at leas
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