CHICAGO—When the American Probation and Parole Association hosts its 31st annual conference in Chicago this week, one group of judges and probation officers will be wearing the newest fashion in electronic offender monitoring: An ankle bracelet that actually tests your perspiration to see if you’ve been drinking.
The product, called the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor, or SCRAM, is an alcohol ankle bracelet that uses transdermal analysis¾as often as every 30 minutes¾in order to determine whether DUI, domestic violence or other alcohol-involved offenders have been drinking. On exhibit this week at the APPA 31st Annual Training Institute, running July 23rd through the 26th at the Hilton Hotel in Chicago, SCRAM will be worn by some of the more than 1,600 judges and program directors who will be attending the show. “Once you see it, you believe it,” says Don White, vice president of Field Operations for Denver-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS). “It’s absolutely the best way for a judge to see how this product works, and how this tool can be used in an alcohol management program.” According to White, volunteers will wear the product for several hours or 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.
Alcohol and Crime: The Illinois Picture
Already in use in 36 other states, Illinois is still in the early phases of evaluating the technology. According to The Century Council, which compiles and reports state-by-state DUI statistics, Illinois has more than 51,000 DUI arrests each year, and more than half (25,500) are considered to be the highest-risk drivers, with BAC levels above 0.15, or twice the legal limit. Just over 45% of the state’s traffic fatalities are alcohol-related, well above the national average of 39%, and alcohol is a factor in a whopping 41% of the state’s crash costs. But according to White, the big disconnect is that, despite the relatively high DUI arrest rate of just over 51,000 each year in Illinois, there are just 7,000 actual convictions, with another 11,000 placed under “court supervision.” “If you combine convictions and supervisions, that’s fewer than 35% of people arrested for DUI who receive some sort of punishment or supervision, well below the national conviction rate of 79%,” says White.
One Illinois program that has a reputation for being tough on drunk drivers is the Summary Suspension Program, a license reinstatement program that’s run by the Secretary of State’s office. “That’s certainly one program where Continuous Alcohol Monitoring can play a significant role,” says White. Other states, such as North Carolina, are also looking at Continuous Alcohol Monitoring as a way for offenders to earn the privilege of applying for license reinstatement. North Carolina is looking at a mandatory 90-day period of sobriety, monitored by SCRAM, in order for an offender to qualify to apply for license reinstatement or an ignition interlock-restricted license. “It’s the first time there’s been a fact-based tool for evaluating these offenders,” says White.
So why is “continuous” monitoring important? According to AMS, which manufactures, markets and distributes the technology, the issue is that alcohol metabolizes so quickly in the body that it’s extremely difficult to effectively monitor sobriety with random testing programs, such as those used on drug offenders. “Unless you can test at least once every two to three hours, you’re going to miss 98% of drinking violations,” says AMS Chairman and CEO Mike Iiams. He goes on to explain that the cycle of drinking and re-offending is what puts communities at the greatest risk. “Studies show that, on average, someone arrested for a DUI has driven drunk an average of 300 times before they’ve been arrested. It’s not the first time they’ve driven drunk, it’s just the first time they’ve been caught.”
In addition to the DUI epidemic, which has been well-publicized since the late 1980s, awareness of the link between alcohol and domestic violence is spurring a new generation of specialty courts that deal exclusively with domestic violence cases on their dockets. According to the US Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 75% of all the reported cases of domestic violence, the offender was drunk at the time of the offense. “Domestic violence offenders are a rapidly growing client base for us,” says White. “These are serious issues for people with serious drinking problems. If you can keep them from drinking, then they’re not drinking and driving, or abusing their spouse or children. It’s really that simple.”
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 measures 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 SCRAMNET, a web-based server hosted by AMS.
About Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc.
Established in 1997, Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc. manufactures the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor®, or SCRAM®, the world’s only continuous alcohol testing system that uses Transdermal Analysis to measure for alcohol consumption. 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 47 people across the U.S. and is a privately-held company headquartered in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.