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An employee publication of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
September/October 2010

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New policy calls for random testing of employees for illegal drug use

From a pool of nearly 40,000 TDCJ employees subject to testing, approximately 9,600 uniformed and non-uniformed employees who have regular contact with offenders and parolees will be randomly tested for illegal drug use each year under a policy implemented in August.

The random testing is in addition to a longstanding personnel policy that requires urine testing of all TDCJ job applicants prior to employment. Until now, employees had been subject to further testing only when there was a reasonable suspicion of illegal drug use or intoxication.

TDCJ Human Resources Division Director Jan Thornton said that as of late May, the 40,000 employees meeting the criteria for random drug testing included correctional staff, parole officers and other employees receiving hazardous duty pay or the unit pay differential. Thornton said the policy calls for annual testing of 24 percent (9,600) of the total number of eligible employees or 2 percent monthly (800).

Thornton said the agency’s Information Technology Division generates a list at random each month and distributes it to supervisors who then have seven days to notify individual employees of their selection for testing. Once notified, employees must report immediately to one of 75 testing stations across the state to provide a urine sample that is screened for the presence of 10 different illegal substances. She said the names of employees on approved leave when selected are returned to the pool for possible selection at a later date. Deferrals for employees requesting leave for family emergencies are considered on a case-by-case basis, she said.

Employees who refuse to comply with testing procedures or fail to report to a designated testing site are subject to disciplinary action, including termination, Thornton said. Employees testing positive can appeal the finding.

Executive Director Brad Livingston said implementation of a random drug testing policy is another means of increasing security and safety within the agency, but in no way reflects negatively on TDCJ employees.

“Many public safety agencies in both corrections and law enforcement have similar policies relating to random drug testing,” Livingston said. “Such policies reflect the high standards and expectations associated with the profession, as well as the risks involved for all employees should just one individual fail to meet those standards.”

Texas Board of Criminal Justice Chairman Oliver J. Bell called the random drug testing policy “a big step in the right direction” toward curbing the introduction of contraband. He also emphasized that the new policy does not imply that illegal drug use among TDCJ employees is a major problem.

Parole Division Director Stuart Jenkins said he welcomes further drug testing and expects that the nearly 2,000 Parole Division employees who now meet the criteria for testing will also accept the new requirement.

“I think some people will be concerned about the testing at first, but knowing the population we deal with, I believe that’s going to be something they accept and encourage.”

Huntsville Unit Lt. Tim Weich also believes random drug testing of staff
is needed.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said the 11-year veteran. “Being a correctional officer in the state of Texas, a lot of times you see nothing but bad press on what we do. A lot of times our integrity is questioned, and I think it would be a great way for us to police ourselves and try to uphold some of the integrity of what we do every day.”

Weich said random drug testing will also make him feel safer on the job.

“They’ve (our employees) got to count on each other,” he said. “It would be nice for me to know that the guy turning keys on the cellblock is paying attention and not hung over or strung out from what he’s doing out in the world.”

Both the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and the Office of the Inspector General volunteered to participate in the testing.

“We police them, so we should police ourselves as well,” said Inspector General John Moriarty.

 

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