NEW YORK — Hundreds of New York state prisoners were wrongly subjected to sometimes harsh punishments after drug tests erroneously showed that they had used narcotics while incarcerated, according to a federal class action lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday against the manufacturer of the drug-testing equipment used in the prisons, claims that Microgenics Corp. failed to ensure that its devices produced accurate results.
Michael Kearney said prison officials gave him extra time behind bars, including in solitary confinement, just a week before his scheduled release. He was eventually freed after prison officials learned that the results were inaccurate, he said.
Kearney said that as a result, he lost a construction job that was waiting for him.
“I think about it every day,” Kearney told The New York Times. “Where I could have been.”
An email requesting comment was sent on Thursday to Thermo Fisher Scientific, Microgenics’ parent company.
The state Inspector General’s Office began investigating Microgenics’ drug-testing system two months ago, according to a spokesman, Lee Park.
The prisons stopped using the equipment after learning that results were inaccurate, said Thomas Mailey, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. They “immediately reversed any actions taken as a result of these tests, and restored privileges to any potentially affected inmates.”
Prisoner advocates said the prison system had reversed some guilty findings, reinstated educational and recreational programming for inmates who had been removed from it, and released some people who were being held longer because of faulty tests. Mailey declined to say how many findings were reversed and when the state stopped using the equipment.
Nadezda Steele-Warrick, described as a model inmate, was allowed to spend a weekend with her husband and 7-year-old son in April. She had to take drug tests before and after the visit, and one came back positive.
She was moved from her private cell into the general population for 11 days as punishment.
“All I was doing was crying,” she said. “The turmoil I went through and the mental anguish — I wouldn’t want it to happen to anyone again.”
Four months after Steele-Warrick was released from prison, the result of her disciplinary hearing was overturned. The drug test was faulty, the lawsuit said.
“It’s a civil rights issue. It’s a justice issue,” said Karen Murtagh, executive director of the Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, one of the plaintiffs’ representatives.