Ashcroft Unveils Bill on Drug Testing of Federal Prisoners before Release
By Ed Somers
For over two years, the Conference of Mayors has championed the need for a comprehensive policy designed to reduce the availability of drugs in prisons, provide treatment to prisoners in need, and ensure that prisoners pass a drug test prior to release from prison back into communities.
The Conference’s efforts on this initiative have been led by Vice President Boise Mayor H. Brent Coles and Gary Mayor Scott King, co-chairs of the Drug Control Task Force, and Reno Mayor Jeff Griffin, Chair of the Criminal and Social Justice Committee.
Conference policy specifically states that “the federal government should adopt a policy that every prisoner pass a drug test prior to release from the federal prison system, and continues to be tested and receive treatment if needed while on probation or parole.”
This policy is also
contained in the Conference’s “New Agenda for America’s
Cities” which was unveiled by Conference President Denver Mayor
Wellington E. Webb.
In a major step forward on this initiative, Sen. John Ashcroft (MO) unveiled a new bill at the meeting (S 2008) to require the pre-release drug testing of Federal prisoners. Sen. Ashcroft is the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, Federalism, and Property Rights.
The new bill was drafted at the request of the nation’s mayors, and requires that the Attorney General issue an arrest warrant for any federal prisoner who fails a mandatory drug test prior to release.
The bill also authorizes $2 million in FY 2000 to fund a special office within the Justice Department for the investigation and prosecution of prisoners for whom an arrest warrant is issued.
In commenting on the need for this legislation, Mayor Griffin stated, “I wonder what a shock it might be to the average citizen to learn that drugs exist in prisons, or the extent to which drugs are available in some prisons and jails. Don’t we have concrete walls, barbed wire, trained security personnel, search policies, and mandatory continuous testing in prisons and jails?”
“And if we can’t keep drugs out of prisons, can we ever hope to truly win the war on drugs in communities which have no walls or barbed wire or mandatory searches and drug testing?” Mayor Griffin added.
Mayor Coles stressed that, “this bill is an important step in our effort to reduce recidivism and make our communities safer. I hope that it will serve as an example to the states who control the majority of the nation’s prison systems. The Conference will now begin working to help secure cosponsors for this important legislation.”
In commenting on the need for greater attention to the issue of convicted drug users, Attorney General Janet Reno said, “Let’s try, let’s be bold, let’s be innovative,” in proposing a comprehensive monitoring system for individuals convicted of drug crimes which will assist them while in prison, and provide true guidance and monitoring when they leave prison. The Justice Department has been working with the Conference on the issue of drugs in prison and the need for monitoring and treatment following release, but has not yet endorsed the requirement of drug testing upon release from federal prison.
In addition to working on the drugs in prisons issue, Sen. Ashcroft is championing legislation designed to help in the fight against meth. His bi-partisan bill (S 486), the “Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act of 1999,” has been passed by the Senate and sent to the House for action. The bill would increase federal funding for law enforcement, education and treatment related to meth.