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Crime File: Drug Testing

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James Q. Wilson moderates a panel of three (Jay Carver, Director of the D.C. Pretrial Services Program; Elizabeth Symmonds, attorney with the Capitol Area Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union; and Dr. Eric Wish, a drug researcher)
A film clip describing the District of Columbia's drug testing program, a part of the Pretrial Services Program, illustrates methods used to secure and test initial and followup urine samples of arrestees, explaining that results of the tests, conducted in the courthouse, are presented to the judge before arraignment and used in making a pretrial release decision. Mr. Carver cites statistics indicating that persons testing positive for drug use are 50 percent more likely to miss their court date than those not testing. Furthermore, according to Carver, using drug use as a criterion, more people are released pending trial than under bail. Symmonds questions the accuracy of these statistics. She calls the testing intrusive on arrestees still not having been found guilty of a crime, argues that these tests should be confirmed by another testing method, and suggests that judges, faced with apparently 'scientific' data, will use drug test results in making a pretrial decision to the exclusion of other more 'soft' data, such as the arrestee's family situation. Dr. Wish discusses the drug-crime link, noting studies showing drug use increases the number of crimes committed by an individual. He explores the possibility of mandatory drug testing as a sentence condition to counter committing further crime.

Date Published: January 1, 1986