Illegal drug deterrent - or deterrent to visitation?

By Jason Tuite

I am incarcerated in a federal correctional facility. There is a machine in the lobby of the institution that is used to vacuum molecules from visitors coming into the institution. These molecules are placed in a black box mass spectrometer. If the molecules profile a controlled substance, the visitor is denied entry into the institution on the basis that they are either using, have been handling, or are in possession of illegal narcotics.

Visitors are not afforded the opportunity to submit to any further search, or present blood or urine for testing, or any kind of direct indicator testing. They are simply sent away and told they cannot return for a determined amount of time, an amount of time that increases with each positive testing. My visitor, Bill Ochse, has been turned away twice, and the last time he was turned away he was told that he could not return for 30 days. If he ever gives a positive reading again, he will not be able to visit me for 90 days, and the time after that will result in 180 days loss of visiting!

The Oregon Health Science University employs Bill in a drug testing facility where he comes into contact with controlled substances throughout his workday. His employer wrote a letter to Warden Hood in this regard (see below), explaining that my visitor's contact with controlled substances is not criminal in nature. The letter had no effect.

Bill Ochse is a 64-year old state employee with no criminal record who has never illegally handled a controlled substance in his life. Since visiting is a right which is not to be taken away without just cause, I believe his rights are being violated since he is not guilty of doing anything wrong. He is basically being denied visitation due to his legal occupation.

These same machines are used in airports to establish a reasonable suspicion for further investigation, ones that are affirmed or denied. Those testing positive in airports are not denied access to their flights. They are simply searched further, and when nothing is found, they are allowed access to their flights. In prisons however, the visitor is not afforded any opportunity for further search, but is sent away based merely on suspicion.

The administration here at FCI Sheridan has communicated that they know innocent people are being turned away, and prison officials have told me that contamination from our currency can set off the machine. Since it tests in the level of nanograms, the institution cannot tell the difference between innocent and guilty.

According to §511.14 under the CFR, visitation can be refused or terminated only if (1) the visitor refuses any further search, or (2) the visitor is found to be in possession of any contraband in that further search. My visitor would have been happy to submit to further search, but the Operations Memorandum which introduced the Ion Tracer states that at no time may a visitor who has tested positive be afforded the opportunity of further search. These operational instructions are in direct contradiction to the CFR, and I believe are a violation of my visitors' rights to clear himself of any suspicion.

Just recently a 3-year old child was tested and sent away on the basis of a positive reading! When I questioned administrative staff about this, they said that the adult carrier of the child must have been 'dirty' and contaminated the child. Our visitors go through a lot to see us, and it is not fair to them to be told 'bye bye' by a light on a console when they have done nothing to lose the right to enter.

Veterinarian questions accuracy of ion machine

Warden Hood, as I am sure you are aware, biomedical research is conducted on the monkeys living at the Primate Center. Handling the monkeys requires the use of ketamine, a cyclohexamine that causes a dissociative type of anesthesia. Ketamine is also a very special street drug that goes by the name Special K. Opiates are also frequently used at the center for post-operative analgesia. The Primate Center performs around 8-14 procedures per day during the busy season (fall and spring) that results in several animals being dosed with opiate analgesics on any given day. Additionally, research is conducted on cocaine, ecstasy, and countless other basic chemical components that may leave residues on the skin that could trigger a machine to interpret them as illicit substances (similar chemical structure).

Both Mr. Ochse and I have searched various resources to learn more about this Ion Tracker in an attempt to help narrow down which of countless chemicals used at the Primate Center could possibly be the source of a positive test. Neither of us was able to find any information at all. This coupled with the information that the Ion Tracker has given false positive readings on several other people in addition to Mr. Ochse makes me, as an experienced clinician, question the validity of this test as a screening tool.

Mr. Ochse has expressed willingness to have his urine and/or blood screened for illegal substances in lieu of continued Ion Tracker screening. Given the potential for unusual residues to be found on his skin and the questionable validity of the Ion Tracker, I believe this is a reasonable request.

If you have any questions about the work Mr. Ochse does at the Primate Center or drugs and chemicals used at the center, please feel free to contact me.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

Gwendalyn M. Maginnis, D.V.M.
Head, Division of Animal Resources
Oregon Regional Primate Research Center