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High on the job


A report that 26 employees at the Baltimore City Detention Center (formerly the City Jail) flunked drug tests required by the state when it took over the institution July 1 vindicates the Schaefer administration's policy of cracking down on drug use in state workplaces. A drug-impaired prison employee whose condition contributes to a breakout or hostage-taking situation is every bit as much a public menace as a cocaine-using airline pilot or a train engineer high on marijuana.

The 26 employees who were fired for failing the test represented only about 3 percent of the jail's 850 employees. But another 36 employees refused to take the test, and it's probably safe to assume some declined because they feared exposure. None of the 36 was allowed to keep his or her job, but when you add them to the number who tested positive for drugs, nearly 8 percent of the staff had to be let go because of suspected drug use.

None of this should come as any particular surprise given the pervasiveness of drugs. Certainly in this case the problem is exacerbated by the generally disadvantaged labor pool prisons recruit from, as well as by the work-related stresses that go with the job.

Still, one wonders how representative the 8 percent figure is of other segments of the work force. Is it reasonable to assume that 8 percent of, say, schoolteachers or nuclear power plant workers also would flunk if required to submit to a similar test? It's fine to point indignantly at prison employees as peculiarly susceptible to drug abuse, but we suspect they may in fact be far less unique in this regard than most people would wish.

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