Court, community unite to support veterans
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI—When Vietnam Veteran Larry Strange stood before Veterans Court Judge Ardie Bland last month, a large audience, including Kansas City Mayor and Veteran Sylvester James, were gathered for the day’s appearances. Strange, after successfully completing his court-ordered period of alcohol monitoring, said two unusual things: He thanked Judge Bland for putting him in the monitoring program, and he asked if he could continue to wear his court-ordered alcohol bracelet, despite completing the court’s requirement. “I haven’t felt this good in 15 years,” he said. “This bracelet, with my ‘surveillance team,’ has saved my life.”
Strange was part of a 4 month pilot program in the Kansas City Municipal Veterans Court that allowed combat veterans diagnosed with alcohol abuse issues to wear 24/7 monitoring bracelets. The pilot, run by Blue Springs-based Electronic Sentencing Alternatives (ESA), is one of several in the country supporting Veterans Treatment Courts—court dockets designed to address some of the specific challenges of U.S. combat veterans who return from deployment to find themselves struggling with addictions in trouble with the law. Strange became part of the Veterans program after being convicted of multiple alcohol-related offenses.
In June, ESA, which provides a variety of electronic monitoring technologies to offenders sentenced in Kansas City-area courts, helped Judge Bland introduce the 4 month alcohol monitoring pilot, free of cost, using technology known as SCRAMx (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitors). The anklets sample an offender’s perspiration, every 30 minutes, 24/7, to measure for alcohol consumption. Ten veterans participated in the pilot, and now officials are looking to acquire funding through a variety of avenues to continue the monitoring. “Sobriety is a huge focus for this program, and monitoring for sobriety—holding these individuals accountable while they’re in the program—is essential,” says Denise Welch-Masters, president and Owner of ESA.
But with homelessness and unemployment at the top of the list of challenges for combat veterans, funding for their court supervision, which is often paid for all or in part by the offenders themselves, is particularly challenging. And according to Masters, that’s where her company decided to help officials meet the needs of the area’s veterans.
“Grants and funding are essential for all specialty courts. But these Veterans, who have served our country, are impacted more financially than most. We decided as a company that we wanted to do our part—to support the Veterans—by making the Veterans Court a community relations focus for our entire organization,” says Masters.
Their fund-raising efforts include a future Heartland Vet 5k Run and donations of clothing to participants in the court. And for Strange, ESA is paying for the cost for him to voluntarily continue his SCRAMx monitoring, long after Judge Bland said Strange had successfully completed the requirement. “This is the only thing that’s held me accountable, and I’m finely feeling healthy again,” said Strange to the crowded courtroom. “While wearing SCRAM, I held my best friend in my arms as she passed away from alcoholism. Without this bracelet, I would have slipped. And I wouldn’t have been there for her when she passed,” he said.
According to Justice for Vets: The National Clearinghouse for Veterans Treatment Courts, 1.2 million combat veterans are arrested each year in the U.S. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), drug and alcohol addiction, unemployment and homelessness are rampant with the more than 23 million U.S. Veterans. Two million and counting are combat Veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) reports that 1 in 4 Veterans ages 18 to 25 meet the criteria for substance abuse disorder. The U.S Department of Veterans Affairs reports that one-third of the adult homeless population has served in the military.
The Kansas City Municipal Veterans Court was one of a handful of innovators that helped launch the Veterans Treatment court model in 2008. Today the program has served 220 local military Veterans, tackling the issues that impact the group at a disproportionate rate. Data shows that the vast majority of Veterans Treatment Court offenders have no criminal record prior to their service, they are new to the system and their needs are often directly related to their military service. Today 102 official Veterans Treatment Courts are spread throughout the U.S., and dozens more are in the planning stages.
According to Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS), which manufactures and markets the SCRAMx System through the U.S., Canada and the U.K, the Kansas City area courts have monitored more than 1,700 offenders with SCRAMx. Statewide, Missouri has monitored 8,200 offenders for a total of nearly 1 million monitored days. AMS reports that 99.6% of those monitored days were Sober Days, defined as a 24-hour period with no drinking and no attempt to tamper or circumvent testing.
About Electronic Sentencing Alternatives (ESA)
Electronic Sentencing Alternatives (ESA) provides a variety of electronic monitoring technologies to Kansas City metro area courts. Established in 1998, ESA technologies include GPS offender tracking, house arrest, and sobriety monitoring. Based in Blue Springs, ESA operates six locations throughout western Missouri, including offices in Independence, Kansas City, North Kansas City, Blue Springs, Gladstone, Raymore and Lexington. ESA has also partnered with a Cass County company, ExtraPros, to provide electronic monitoring technology for courts in counties south of Cass County.
About Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc. (AMS)
Established in 1997, AMS is the world’s largest provider of Continuous Alcohol Monitoring (CAM) technology. AMS manufactures SCRAMx, which uses non-invasive transdermal analysis to monitor alcohol consumption and integrates home detention monitoring into a single anklet. SCRAMx fully automates the alcohol testing and reporting process, providing courts and community corrections agencies with the ability to continuously monitor alcohol offenders, increase offender accountability and assess compliance with sentencing requirements and treatment guidelines. SCRAMx has monitored 258,000 offenders in 48 states. AMS employs 126 people across the U.S. and is a privately-held company headquartered in Littleton, Colorado.