In the wake of a second drug-related arrest of a prison employee, new Luzerne County Correctional Services Division Head Mark Rockovich said he’s preparing to reactivate random drug testing of workers.
“I’m 110 percent in support of random drug testing for all prison employees, from myself on down. I think it’s a great idea,” said Rockovich, a veteran county prison worker who took over as corrections overseer in July.
Former prison counselor Louis Elmy entered a guilty plea last month on charges of extortion and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, and federal investigators this week charged a second county prison employee — correctional officer John Stachokus — with extortion for allegedly granting unauthorized leave to work-release inmates in exchange for cash and other items.
Prosecutors allege an inmate helped both employees access drugs — cocaine for Stachokus and crack cocaine for Elmy. They described Elmy as a “habitual drug user” and alleged he resorted to selling guns to drug dealers to feed his increasingly costly crack addiction.
Both extortion schemes continued from November 2013 until Elmy was charged in February, prosecutors alleged.
Random drug testing stopped at the prison several years ago under a prior administration due to budgetary challenges, county officials said in February.
County officials had touted creation of the progressive random testing policy in 2006, saying it resulted from more than a year of negotiations with union officials launched after two employees allegedly came to work under the influence of alcohol.
Rockovich said he is in the process of securing prices from drug testing companies.
He wants to complete the testing as often as possible under the county’s fiscal constraints. The policy does not limit the frequency of drug testing.
“I’d like to do the testing several times a year if it’s not too expensive,” Rockovich said.
The prison system employs about 300 people and costs $34.1 million a year — the largest single department expense in the county’s budget.
When the prison began drug testing in 2006, officials hired an outside company that charged $75 per test. The company used a computer program involving Social Security numbers to randomly select who would be tested in each batch, with roughly half of the employees tested annually.
The policy says the prison must make “every reasonable attempt” to detect drug and alcohol abuse.
“Given the public safety and security concerns inherent in the operation of a prison, the county has a compelling obligation to eliminate illegal drug use and alcohol abuse from the Luzerne County Correctional Facility workplace,” it says.
The policy says employees will be tested for alcohol and the following drugs: marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, Phencyclidine (PCP) and prescribed drugs that are commonly abused, such as barbiturates and other sedatives, tranquilizers, depressants and inhalants.
Employees are subject to disciplinary action, including possible termination, if they test positive for unauthorized drugs or alcohol and don’t admit they have an addiction problem and seek access to treatment.
In 2007, less than a year into the program, seven employees had tested positive for drugs and were required to sign a “last chance” agreement and undergo counseling to return to work. The administration could not locate statistics on subsequent test results.
County Manager C. David Pedri said the administration is discussing possible random drug testing of all employees.
The only employees currently randomly tested are those with commercial driver’s licenses and in some human service branches, he has said.
The administration also is reviewing all work release program protocols and making adjustments, Pedri said.
For example, management signatures and other documentation have been added for the tracking of instances when work release inmates leave prison grounds for work or college classes.