Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Thankless, Expensive Task Of Undoing The Drug War

Techdirt has a heartbreaking post about Massachusetts forensic drug lab technician Annie Dookhan, who was a real people pleaser, at least among the police and prosecuting attorneys of that state. She
... had been falsifying drug tests (e.g., claiming that samples contained narcotics without testing them and even adding cocaine to samples to get a positive result when prior testing came back negative). She had worked at the lab for nearly a decade, and these revelations called into question the outcomes in tens of thousands of cases.
How many cases were involved? The list extends to 40,000 known thus far, a number amplified because
[Dookhan's bosses] weren't looking for a problem at the drug lab. They were looking for productivity. [The Massachusetts forensic lab at Jamaica] Plain's suspiciously-fast output wasn't greeted with suspicion. It was greeted with praise and an increased workload.
The report shows that the Hinton lab leaned heavily on Dookhan’s productivity. Supervisors lauded her work ethic and assigned her an increasing share of tests.

“From January 1, 2004, through December 31, 2011, Dookhan was assigned 25.3% of all analyses in the Drug Lab and completed 21.8% of all tests conducted by staff,” the report said.
No one has a budget this big. "There's a point when a problem is still manageable," Techdirt author Tim Cushing continues, "and there's a point when it becomes too big to correct within the confines of the system that helped create it."

Now consider that the FBI has a similar problem involving hair evidence.


  1. I wish you wouldn't just assume that prosecutors would appreciate this sort of thing.

  2. I'm not sure where I assumed they did. In fact, I'm pretty sure having their mistakes publicly aired is a big part of the reason why we see very little of this.