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Senator Turner discussing a bill on the Senate floor.

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner to require random drug tests for inmates who are receiving treatment in a residential community release program was approved  by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.  The bill was introduced in response to reports of drug use by inmates housed at the Albert M. “Bo” Robinson Assessment and Treatment Center in Trenton.

According to reports, two inmates who escaped and died last year from overdoses were found with opiates and cocaine in their systems.  Later, three inmates were hospitalized after an adverse reaction to synthetic marijuana.  A random drug test conducted on 32 Mercer County inmates last April resulted in two inmates testing positive for marijuana. 

“We have a responsibility to inmates in addiction recovery, and to their families, to house our inmates in facilities that are drug-free, especially when the facility is responsible for providing substance abuse treatment with an emphasis on relapse prevention,” said Senator Turner (D-Mercer and Hunterdon).  “We also have an obligation to our taxpayers to ensure that private halfway houses are delivering the services that our taxpayers are paying for.  We spend over $100 million per year for private half-way houses and our inmates, families, and taxpayers deserve accountability.”

The bill, S-658, would require the Commissioner of Corrections to conduct random drug testing of all state inmates in residential community release programs for use of all controlled dangerous substances or controlled substance analogs.  The bill would also authorize the commissioner to oversee this testing for county inmates in these programs at the request of the county.

Currently, the state provides drug testing kits to the facilities it contracts with, but leaves the centers to administer the tests and report back the results.  Turner noted that absent appropriate monitoring, the results of the centers’ drug testing may not be being accurately reported.  Inmates that test positive are returned to the state or county facility.

“The state is allowing the fox to guard the hen house,” said Senator Turner.  “Although the state has housed tens of thousands of inmates at the Bo Robinson Center, fewer state inmates test positive for drugs than the hundreds of county inmates whose tests are administered by the county.  At a per diem rate of about $80 per inmate at the 982-bed facility, the Center and others like it have a vested interest in retaining as many inmates as possible.  The private facilities are supposed to save taxpayers money; however, there is no cost savings when inmates are using drugs while incarcerated, recidivating upon release, and recycled into jail or prison.  If we’re serious about addiction recovery, we will do more to ensure that the facilities that we’re already paying for are actually delivering the services.”

S-658 was approved 4-0 and now heads to Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.