About 4.3 percent of Maricopa County jail inmates randomly tested for drug use last year tested positive, according to the sheriff’s office. But the numbers have steadily decreased since random testing began in the mid-1990s.
"I think the numbers are lower because the inmates know we’re doing random tests, but I think it also means we’re reducing the smuggling of drugs into the jails, too," Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said.
Arpaio, a retired U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official, began random drug testing in 1995.
He started keeping records of the testing in fiscal 1997-98. That year, 8.9 percent of inmates tested positive, according to the sheriff ’s office.
A computer program picks random inmate names, Arpaio said. Inmates must be incarcerated at least 60 days before testing so those who used drugs before arrest are not penalized.
Inmates who test positive after a second test can explain during a disciplinary hearing, said Sgt. Paul Chagolla. If unable, the inmate is segregated for 30 days.
All inmates can volunteer for a drug education program, Chagolla said.
Each drug test costs $10, which is paid for by inmate commissary or phone fees, Arpaio said.
Methamphetamine and marijuana are the most common drugs, Arpaio said.
The sheriff is also trying to reduce drug usage by having employees carefully inspect the mail and by prohibiting felons from visiting inmates, Chagolla said.
Maricopa County’s Durango Jail in Phoenix continues to be somewhat more problematic because most work furlough inmates are housed there and continue to transport drugs, Arpaio said.
"If they can find a way to get high they’ll take it," Arpaio said. "They’ll gamble. They’ll do anything to get their high, these prisoners."
Arpaio said he is thinking about making drug tests mandatory for all work furlough inmates.
In jurisdictions that have more than 1,000 inmates, 7.4 percent tested positive during a one-month sampling in June 1998, according to U.S. Department of Justice.