Electronic Monitoring Takes a New Turn With Transdermal Alcohol Ankle Bracelet
NEW YORK—When the American Probation and Parole Association hosts its annual conference in New York City next week, one group of judges and probation officers will be under a particularly watchful eye. But according to Corrections industry analysts, it’s not Big Brother, but the best tool yet for dealing with the epidemic of alcohol and crime.
The product, called the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor, or SCRAM, is an alcohol ankle bracelet that actually samples a subject’s sweat—as often as every 30 minutes—in order to determine whether they’ve been drinking. On exhibit this week at the APPA 30th Annual Training Institute, running July 24th-27th at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel, judges and probation officers from around the U.S. will do live subject testing of SCRAM, wearing the bracelet during conference events. “Once you see it, you believe it,” says Don White, vice president of field operations for Denver-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems. “It’s absolutely the best way for someone to understand how this product works, and just how valuable of a tool it can be in an alcohol program.” According to White, volunteers will wear the product for several hours and often overnight, either drinking to test the product’s accuracy, or trying to tamper with it to see how sensitive the high-tech system really is.
Already in use in 30 states, including a pilot program currently under way with the New York State Department of Parole, the product is generally considered to be a tool for monitoring and evaluating problem drinkers who clog the courts with DUI, domestic violence and other alcohol-triggered crimes. But corrections professionals say it’s about more than just saving money on these offenders. “The repeat alcohol-offender cycle isn’t just costly in terms of money, it’s high-risk for the community as well,” says Larry Vanderwoude, president of Recovery Healthcare, a treatment service provider based in Dallas. “Continuous alcohol monitoring lets us quickly assess the severity of an offender’s drinking problem and their risk to the community. Then we can do a better job of dealing with them.” Industry analysts agree, and say the rapid adoption of SCRAM across the country far surpasses any other new electronic monitoring technologies to-date. “The rate at which SCRAM Programs are growing far exceeds that of GPS (Global Positioning Systems) in its early years,” says Peggy Conway, editor of the Journal of Offender Monitoring and a Florida-based electronic monitoring consultant. “This technology has had a remarkable impact on electronic monitoring and the way courts are dealing with offenders in the community.”
Is It Big Brother?
“Absolutely not,” says AMS Chairman and CEO Mike Iiams. “Big Brother was trying to keep tabs on everyone. SCRAM is a tool for people who have committed some pretty serious crimes—usually more than once,” he says. According to the US Department of Justice, repeat offenders account for one-third of all DWI arrests each year, and 75 percent of all cases of spousal abuse were triggered by, or involved, alcohol. “Recidivism rates are astounding, and nothing to-date has made a dent in that problem,” says Iiams. He goes on to explain that community corrections is an alternative to incarceration, and that offenders must consent to the requirements of their parole or probation program, including any required treatment, monitoring, or drug or alcohol testing. The alternative is prison or jail. “That actually meansSCRAM is keeping offenders who are struggling with an alcohol addiction from being locked away. It gives them the opportunity to stay in their homes, keep their jobs, work on their treatment programs, meet their family obligations—all things that are universally acknowledged as contributors to long-term success.”
According to New York state statistics, nearly 57,000 drivers are arrested forDWI each year, and that excludes New York City and Western Suffolk counties. The state also has one of the highest costs for incarceration, averaging $101 a day, or $36,835 each year to incarcerate offenders. Of the 69,150 prisoners under state authority in 2001, more than half were nonviolent offenders. “If even just 1000 of those were monitored in the community each year with continuous alcohol monitoring, the savings to New York taxpayers would exceed $29 million annually,” says Iiams. “SCRAM provides a level of accountability that makes that a very real possibility.”
SCRAM and New York State
On the market for just 18 months, SCRAM has already conducted over 17 million alcohol tests on more than 8,600 offenders since its launch to the Corrections Market in April of 2003. White says expansion in New York will be challenging, predominantly because of the state’s lack of an offender-pay program. “More than 90 percent of offenders on SCRAM across the country are paying for either all or a significant portion of the cost,” he says. The daily fee ranges between $10 and $12 each day, which covers both the cost of the equipment and a daily monitoring fee. “New York is unique in that the majority of community corrections programs are funded by the taxpayer, not the offender.” New York State’s Department of Parole is in the middle of a Pilot of SCRAM, integrating the product into their offender re-entry initiatives. While the department’s policy is not to comment on the status of a Pilot until it’s complete, officials say they felt that 24/7 alcohol monitoring would be a valuable tool for monitoring parolees. The state expects final results from the Pilot Program in September.
The SCRAM System
The SCRAM System includes an ankle bracelet/modem combination, similar to a home arrest system. But instead of monitoring an offender’s location, the ankle bracelet tests, using Transdermal Analysis, in order to measure for alcohol consumption. At least once each day, the offender is required to be within 30 feet of a modem, placed in their home or at their place of work. The bracelet uploads the test data to the modem, which in turn sends the results to a web-based server, called SCRAMNET, which is hosted by AMS.
About Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc.
Established in 1997, Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc. manufactures the world’s only noninvasive alcohol-detection system that automatically tests for alcohol every hour, 24 hours a day, regardless of the individual’s location.SCRAM (the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor) is the first alcohol testing technology to use Transdermal Analysis to determine an individual’s Blood Alcohol Content. SCRAM fully automates the alcohol testing and reporting process, providing community corrections agencies and treatment organizations nationwide with the ability to classify offenders and assess compliance with sentencing requirements and treatment guidelines. Alcohol Monitoring Systems employs 40 people across the U.S. and is a privately-held company headquartered in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.