Working and Being on Probation in Montgomery County Gets Harder

If you are on a felony probation, deferred adjudication, or just on conditions of bond for a pending felony case in Montgomery County, your life has gotten a lot harder this year.

Starting in January, the Montgomery County Probation Office began implementing a new randomized drug testing procedure. The policy requires all persons accused of a felony or who have pled to some type of felony probation or deferred adjudication to call the office every day and see if they have to submit to a drug test.

Here’s how it works. First, the probation department issues you a PIN number. It is then your responsibility to call the office every morning, enter your PIN number, and learn from the automated system if you have to take a urinalysis that day. You then have until 5:00 p.m. to travel to the probation office had provide a sample for testing.

Sounds like a hassle, right? But you’re probably thinking it’s manageable.

This is the attitude of the adult probation office, which has articulated it’s purpose for the randomized procedure as a way to actively fight addiction while making the system fair and reasonable. They figure that it’s reasonable to give someone until the end of the day to come in and submit a sample.

The problem isn’t the policy, it’s the implementation.

It takes FOREVER to get tested. Our clients often have to wait 2 hours or more in the probation office to pee in a cup. This 2-hour time period does not include drive time. Depending on where you work or live, that means just to submit a UA could take you nearly half a day. For someone who works for a living, taking off this much time would be difficult even with a few days’ notice. But to take off a half day of work with no notice at all is almost impossible.

The irony is, all persons being supervised in this county are required to use their best efforts to remain employed and support their dependents. The probation office then makes it extremely difficult to keep that very same job.

Judges, probation staff, and the county in general seem oblivious to the real  hardship this randomized testing is causing people. Part of the reason is that, from a legal perspective, it is hard to argue against these policies, as the Code of Criminal Procedure affords broad discretion to courts to order conditions of supervision that reasonably protect the community. This is true both before and after a person enters a plea!

Although there may be a way to challenge some conditions, especially prior to a person entering a plea of guilty, such a challenge will require a defendant to spend more money up front and a potentially drawn-out fight in court. Few people are in a financial position to tee this issue up. Nor do they have the patience to fight a condition of bond that could indefinitely extend their case.

In just the last month, we’ve had a client on probation tell us he was selling his business, partly because the randomized testing policy had became so time-intensive that it was compromising his ability to manage his affairs. We also had a mother of two who’s in grad school call us in tears, expressing her frustration about the randomized testing, which has caused her to miss class after class and compromised her ability to get her kids where they need to go.

These clients aren’t drug addicts. They aren’t repeat offenders. They aren’t a danger to society. They are people just like you who made a mistake. It’s totally appropriate for them to be monitored by probation, to have to show the court that they are capable of not re-offending, of meeting regularly with their probation officer, and even taking random drug tests. But if the probation office forces them to spend so much time waiting for a UA that it compromises their ability to be productive citizens, I would propose that something needs to change.