On Tuesday, Karen L. Murtagh, Executive Director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, was invited to speak at the Inspector General’s press conference announcing the results of the IG’s investigation into the recent uptick in false positive drug urinalysis results in DOCCS facilities.  The investigation found that DOCCS drug testing policies in 2019 were contrary to manufacturer instructions and resulted in preliminary testing results, which were highly unreliable, being used to impose significant penalties on incarcerated individuals.

Advocating on behalf of incarcerated individuals Director Murtagh characterized the IG’s and the Governor’s work in pursuing justice and human rights as follows:

“Good morning. My name is Karen Murtagh and I am the Executive Director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York.

First, I would like to thank you, Inspector General Lang, and your entire team, for inviting PLS to be here today. For me, today marks a very important day for the rights of all incarcerated individuals, as the abhorrent practice of punishing incarcerated individuals based on false-positive drug tests has finally come to an end.

Thanks to the Inspector General’s thorough investigation, we now know how this happened, why it happened and how to stop it from happening again.

The IG and the Governor, with the issuance of this report, are signaling that all human rights – whether outside or within prison walls – must be protected. The alternative is unacceptable and is the very reason that my organization – PLS – was funded in the first place 46 years ago after the Attica prison uprising.

Incarcerated individuals are part of our society – they are working to put their past behind them and start anew once they are released. Unfortunately, as you have heard, DOCCS’ drug testing program, run by Microgenics, threw roadblock after roadblock in front of countless individuals on their path to reentry.

Too often, human rights are violated because they involve individuals for whom those in power assume no one cares or no one is watching. When a contract is put out to bid, or an administrative disciplinary hearing produces an unjust result, there are real human beings affected and the ripple effect impacts everyone in society.

When an incarcerated person spends weeks, months, or even years in solitary confinement because of utterly unreliable drug testing equipment, that is a travesty of justice that harms not only the person confined, but all of us. The harms are real, lasting and cannot be overstated. The psychological and physical damage caused by solitary confinement, the loss of family visitation, the lack of proper programming, lost work release and educational opportunities – all of which helps combat recidivism – adds to the ledger for which we as a society need to take account.

Justice delayed is justice denied. The entire concept of justice only works when it is handed out equally. In this case, hundreds, if not thousands of people in New York State prisons, were wrongfully accused, found guilty and punished for drug use. This investigation shows that many individuals in correctional facilities were confused as to what was happening and ignored in their own pursuit of justice.  It is easy to lose faith in our justice system when something like this happens.  We have an obligation in government to ensure the fair administration of justice and what we are witnessing here today is the fulfillment of that responsibility.

The IG and the Governor, through the proper exercise of their oversight powers, have produced a report that I hope will begin the process of “righting a wrong” and also forge a better path forward. I stand with my colleagues here today to call on DOCCS to make sure the necessary checks and balances are put in place to prevent such abuses from ever taking place again.

Again, I thank the Inspector General’s Office for conducting this important investigation and putting forth recommendations to preserve the integrity of the correctional system. I commend Inspector General Lang and her team for shining a spotlight on these important issues and I look forward to our continued partnership in making New York a more just place for each and every one of us. Thank you.”

For IG’s press release, summary of investigation and recommendations of the inspector general, click here.

Other news coverage of this event: ABC News, Albany Times Union, Auburnpub, NY Times, NY1, Spectrum News; On Twitter: @georgejoseph94, @cjciaramella