Twenty-six employees at the Baltimore City Detention Center failed a drug test and were fired by the state when it took over the jail July 1, according to a prison spokesman.
In addition, an unknown number of the 36 people who failed to complete the hiring process declined to take the drug test and were not offered jobs, said Gregory M. Shipley, spokesman for the state prison system.
About 850 employees at the jail, including correctional officers and others in sensitive positions, were required to take the drug tests as part of the state takeover.
The 26 failures represent about 3 percent of the total, "which we're pleased to see," Shipley said. "Obviously you don't want to see anybody test positive, but we feel that's a low number."
Bishop L. Robinson, the state public safety secretary, told legislators in June that he had given unions representing jail employees a couple weeks' warning that the drug tests were coming.
"I'm surprised and pleased that the overwhelming majority passed," said Del. Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, who heads an appropriations subcommittee that oversees the prison system's budget. "Frankly, there were predictions [from legislators] that the numbers would be a lot higher."
A national study of the general population conducted for the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 1988 said that 7 percent had used illegal drugs in the past month.
James L. Wiggins, president of the now-defunct city jail board, said board members had considered imposing some kind of random drug testing on employees.
"When you have a security institution and have people serving as officers from the same community as the people being held, it isn't unheard of that there may be some drug use," Wiggins said.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer proposed in January that the state take over the jail to save money for the city. The state has until Dec. 31 to fire or offer jobs to jail workers.
Until July 1, the workers had been city employees. Since the transition, several employees, including the former warden, have been let go by the state, some saying they received no explanation for their dismissal.
The state requires all of its newly hired correctional officers to pass drug tests.