We filed a class action lawsuit against the WA Department of Corrections (DOC) for using faulty drug tests to justify cruel punishment, including months in solitary confinement. The cheap colorimetric tests are designed to screen paper items for certain chemicals and must be followed by laboratory testing to confirm the presence of drugs. In 2021, a Massachusetts court forced that state’s DOC to stop using similar tests, describing them as “only marginally better than a coin flip” at identifying drugs. However, Washington prison officials are imposing harsh punishment on people based on the cheap tests alone.

Plaintiff Gregory Hyde was placed in administrative segregation (another term for solitary confinement) for almost five months after a “presumptive” positive test result. The item that tested positive for drugs was a packet of crossword, word search, and Sudoku puzzle books sent by Mr. Hyde’s elderly father. “I think DOC is using its power to punish people who can’t fight back,” said Mr. Hyde. “My elderly father just wanted to send me some puzzle books. Now they’re saying he’s a drug dealer.”

Similarly, using the Detectachem test, DOC determined drugs were present in two pieces of paper belonging to another plaintiff, Matthew Ross. The papers they had confiscated and tested were copies of Mr. Ross’s childhood immunization records and high school transcript. Both had been mailed to DOC about a year earlier by his mother, at DOC’s request. Based on the tests results, DOC began the process of extending Mr. Ross’s time in prison for more than two months. However, when CLS filed a complaint with the Attorney General, DOC suddenly released Mr. Ross from prison with no re-entry plan.

We are proud to stand with Mr. Bell, Mr. Ross, and many others, to make sure DOC cannot target and harm people in their custody with no cause or recourse.

You can read more on our website or from The Spokesman Review.