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Prison officials: More than 3 percent of Ohio inmates test positive for drugs


COLUMBUS — Ohio prison officials are concerned with the relatively high percentage of inmates who tested positive for drugs last year, a newspaper reported today.

Annual drug testing in October by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction found 3.32 percent testing positive. Most had used marijuana, but there were also positive results for opiates, cocaine and alcohol.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that the rate is nearly twice as high in 2011 when 1.74 percent of those tested had drugs in their system. And it's the highest rate in more than a decade.

A total of 6,828 inmates in 28 prisons in the state system were tested, with 227 testing positive. If the positive rate was expanded to cover the entire prison population of nearly 49,783, it would mean about 1,650 inmates were on drugs at any one time.

“That is too high and absolutely unacceptable as part of security of a prison,” said Gary C. Mohr, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. “When we see an increase, it's taken very seriously.”

Mohr said the 2012 statewide number is skewed somewhat because officials at one prison tested inmates they thought were more likely to be drug users rather than at random. That could have resulted in a higher positive result, he said. Still, he said, the prisons are taking further steps to keep drugs from coming in.

Most of the drugs come in over the walls and fences, thrown into prison yards from the outside, said Todd Ishee, a corrections department regional director. People outside conceal drugs in soccer and tennis balls, clumps of dirt or other things and toss them into the yards. Cellphones, which are also prohibited, often come into prisons the same way.

Prison officials are taking steps to combat it, including installation of more lights, cameras and motion detectors on fences; increasing perimeter patrols; clearing out nearby trees so that would-be smugglers can't hide; and using drug-sniffing dogs.

Mohr acknowledged that some drugs are smuggled into prisons by corrections officers.

Since the state began random drug testing in the early 1990s, results ranged from a high of 6.9 percent in 1990 to a low of 0.82 percent in 2006.

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