Who Was Watching As Houston Probation Drug-Testing Program Collapsed?


As Harris County criminal court judges in Houston scramble to restore the credibility of the troubled county probation department, one question remains: Who, if anybody, was providing oversight as the department’s drug-testing program collapsed? The Houston Chronicle says criminal justice leaders disagree on the answer, with some describing probation departments as a no man’s land between county and state governments. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice funds adult probation, while judges in each jurisdiction hire and fire directors and approve budgets.

A Chronicle review of thousands of internal records from the Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department found hundreds of the agency’s 300,000 annual drug tests botched by clerical or computer errors and shoddy lab work. Some people on probation and awaiting trial were jailed or hauled into court based on incorrectly reported tests. Testimony in a hearing revealed several cases of false positives, including one that led to a man on probation for driving while intoxicated being sentenced to jail for 30 days. One manager testified he could not trust that any positive test conducted by his own agency was “truly a positive.” The Harris County District Attorney’s Office stopped using the department’s drug tests as evidence after a three-day court hearing last month detailed the scope of the problems and the department’s director resigned.

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