Credible Drug Testing in the Federal Probation System

Michael J. Elbert, Southern District of Iowa

A credible drug testing system is paramount to effectively supervising offenders who are under conditional release in the community. Without accurate drug testing programs, probation and pretrial services officers are ill-equipped to enforce court-ordered conditions and protect the community by intervening with a combination of least restrictive sanctions and drug treatment to arrest further drug use. The article explores the issue of intentional urine test manipulation by offenders who dilute their samples by ingesting large amounts of liquids prior to drug testing. The psysiological effects of dilution are explored and prior research is reviewed which suggests that dilution can temporarily mask illegal drug use, thus confounding drug test interpretation. The author identifies objective procedures which can detect drug test manipulation at the collection stage. The article also utilizes research from the Southern District of Iowa and Administrative Office of U.S. Courts that includes data on urine sample manipulation by Federal offenders and interviews with offenders who admitted to successfully manipulalting their urine test results to avoid drug use detection. Finally, the article explores the relationship between illegal drug use, crime, and recidivism and recommends a credible drug testing system in conjunction with intensive drug treatment programs as an effective intervention strategy.

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Updated 05/20/2006