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February 25, 2008 - WEEK-TV (IL)

False Positives Cause Problems For Prison Visitors

By Kelli Watson

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

(Find this article, with links and video, at:

If you take prescription medications, wear perfume or lotion, or even use baby wipes on your child, you could one day test positive for drugs.

That's the problem many families tell News 25 they have when they go and visit loved ones at the Federal Correctional Institute in Pekin.

Some of the people are calling it false-positive drug testing that's having a negative impact on prison inmates' families.

If you carry cash, turn a doorknob or even buy soda, who knows what you're really walking away with.

There are countless surfaces we come in contact with on a daily basis that house residue from bacteria to traces of drugs.

"I always bring a zip-lock bag with paper towels soaked in alcohol...I take a wet one with me before they call be to be drug screened," said Marsha Williams.

She takes her grandchildren on their monthly visit to see their father at the Federal Correctional Institution in Pekin.

But before anyone gets in to see a loved one, visitors are tested for drugs through system known as an ion spectrometry test.

The Bureau of Prisons says the goal of the test is to reduce the amount of illegal substances entering prisons and denials are based on accurate device test results.

Williams says she has never used or handled illegal drugs.

"I tested positive last May and I tested positive last June and was unable to take the kids to visit their dad for a month."

Williams is not alone. Families from all over the country sent WEEK e-mails about what they call an unreliable test and the torment they went through in being turned away from visiting.

71-year-old Genora Trammell was turned away after flying in from South Dakota.

Trammell said, "They said, "Well, sorry, you tested positive." And I said, "That's impossible. I've never done drugs in my life."

It's emotionally traumatic for the person and the inmate who doesn't get a visit. Trammell and several others have appealed their visitation denials.

The warden sent identical letters in response saying due to incorrect information and inconsistencies with the testing process, the positive test results will be expunged.

Williams says since then, her tests have gone from mandatory to random.

"It's an issue not just here in Pekin, but in institutions all over the country where people have been turned away. It needs to be addressed and taken care of."

So families like Marsha Williams' don't get turned away from seeing their loved ones.

A spokesperson for Congressman Ray LaHood's office says they are looking into the matter with inconsistencies in drug testing at FCI Pekin.

Felicia Ponce with the Federal Bureau pf Prisons said, "an innocuous substance such as prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, perfumes, lotions, herbal products, poppy seeds, chlorine baby wipes and gas[oline] fumes can be identified as an illegal narcotic substance."

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