Everything You Need to Know About Drug Testing in Correctional Facilities
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Everything You Need to Know About Drug Testing in Correctional Facilities

Correctional facilities routinely do drug testing as a way to discourage the use of illicit drugs. This is true for most correctional jurisdictions. Jail and prison administrators do random drug testing of inmates and those who test positive are given disciplinary action and placed on a repeat testing program.

In the federal prison system, drug testing policies mandate several types of drug testing procedures. They have what are called the “suspect group” and the “random sample group”. Intelligence gathering within the facilities identifies which inmates fall under the “suspect” category and they are tested for 3 consecutive months, at least. The random sample group that is tested for drug use is composed of 5% of the prison’s total population (3% for minimum security and 10% for maximum security). They are typically tested for the following drugs using urine testing:

• Amphetamines

• Barbiturates

• Cocaine and its metabolites

• Codeine and other opiates

• Marijuana

• Methadone

• Morphine

• Opiates

• Phencyclidine (PCP)

Drug Testing Practices and Methods in Correctional Facilities

Along with the inmates, current employees of correctional facilities are likewise tested for drug and alcohol use. Candidates for Corrections Officer positions also have to undergo a battery of tests that include a pre-employment drug test, a polygraph test, psychological exam and a medical examination similar to law enforcement agencies. These tests are designed to ensure that would-be employees are fit to work with offenders.

• Pre-employment drug testing - is practically a standard requirement for employment anywhere and correctional facilities are no exception. It is normally done along with a background check that can include any combination of the following:

  • Nationwide Criminal with SSN Trace and Alias
  • Global Criminal Watch List
  • National Federal Criminal Search
  • Nationwide Wants and Warrants

Random drug testing – are routinely done by compound officers who collect the urine samples usually first thing in the morning to get what they consider good, undiluted specimen but can also be done at different times throughout the day. They use multi-panel urine drug tests to detect even the less popular substances.

Reasonable-suspicion (suspect group) drug testing – are required of inmates who are under suspicion of using illicit drugs. These inmates typically undergo urine testing for 3 consecutive months.

Why Urine Testing?

Urine testing is the most technologically developed method for detecting drug use and is therefore the most popular. Instant urine test kits come in a variety of choices that include integrated test cups, instant drug testing cassettes, instant drug testing dip cards, and instant drug testing dip strips.

Urine testing offers the following advantages:

• Affordable

• Easy to use

• Can be done conveniently on-site

• Readily available

• Can detect drug use from 1 day up to 7 days after usage for most drugs; up to 15 days for Phenobarbital and up to 30 days for chronic marijuana use.


As of December 2005, there were 1,821 correctional facilities in the United States (102 federal and 1719 state). Drug and alcohol counseling were offered at 98% of the federal correctional facilities and at 72% of the state correctional facilities.

A 1998 study found that 7 out of 10 local jail inmates were regular drug users or had committed a drug offense. Overall, 71% of local jail jurisdictions reported that they had drug test policies in place to test inmates and/or jail staff for drug use. Among the jurisdictions that implemented drug testing, 70% reported that inmates who tested positive lose “good time” privileges. Half of these jurisdictions also reported that if staff members tested positive for drug use they are dismissed from employment6. With such light “punishment” for drug use within the walls of correctional facilities, it’s no wonder the problem with drug use and abuse have persisted over the years.








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Urine, Saliva Drug Testing for Prison & Correctional Facilities


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