Ontario jails intend on using a special eye-based drug test on their inmates. Ontario Correctional Services Minister Rob Sampson told the Toronto Star in June that he is working to introduce the new machines into prisons as part of a new policy of random inmate drug testing.
The machine is called a “fitness impairment screener” and is made by PMI Incorporated, based in Maryland. It consists of a pair of goggles hooked up to a computer, and it uses lights to measure pupil size and reflex to light. The readings are compared against a previously established baseline, and if the pupil is dilated or reacts more slowly then the test shows positive.
The eye scan only tests if a person is currently impaired, and can’t determine if impairment is caused by drugs, alcohol, lack of sleep or other causes. Inmates who test positive will have to provide a urine sample for further testing. Inmates who test positive for drugs or alcohol will become ineligible for early parole.
The screener is currently being used in Arizona prisons, and is being introduced into Manhattan. It is also used in “safety critical industrial settings” like Australian coal mines and for the US Coast Guard.
Part of the reason for the eye test’s growing popularity is its speed and low cost. Traditional urine testing is time-consuming and expensive. For example, US high schools pay about $1000 per student for a year’s worth of random urine tests.
Private companies sometimes donate their urine-testing services to create future demand. For example, Roche Diagnostic Systems, a leader in workplace drug testing, contributed $100,000 in free drug testing to high schools in 1999. The Coca-Cola bottling company in Frankfort, Ohio, sponsors drug testing in local high schools in exchange for contracts as the schools’ exclusive soft drink vendor.