SEATTLE—When the National Association of Drug Court Professionals hosts its 31st annual conference in Seattle this week, one group of judges 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 analysis-as often as every 30 minutes-in order to determine whether DUI, domestic violence, or other alcohol-involved offenders have been drinking. On exhibit this week at the NADCP 12th Annual Drug Court Training Conference, running June 21st through the 24th at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, SCRAM will be worn by some of the more than 2,500 judges and program directors who will be attending the show. “Once you see it, you believe it,” says Mike Iiams, chairman and CEO for Denver-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS). “It’s absolutely the best way for a judge to understand how this product works, and how this tool can be used most effectively in an alcohol management program.” According to Iiams, 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 Washington Picture
Already in use in 36 states, including 16 counties in Washington, courts are predominantly using the product as a tool for monitoring and evaluating DUI and domestic violence offenders. According to The Century Council, which compiles and reports state-by-state DUI statistics, there are nearly 37,000 DUI arrests in the state each year. More than one-third (12,700) are considered to be the highest-risk drivers, with BAC levels above .15, or twice the legal limit. In contrast, the state only convicts just over 17,000 DUIoffenders annually. So what’s the disconnect? “It’s a combination of overcrowded jails and limited funding for community corrections programs,” says Pete Black, president of Second Watch Monitoring, which delivers continuous alcohol monitoring programs to courts throughout Eastern Washington. “Washington ranks 49th out of the 50 states for community corrections funding. That means that for many of the highest risk, repeat alcohol offenders, it’s jail or nothing. And there are just so many jail cells available.” Washington also ranks 50 out of 50 states for court funding. Black, whose company is based in Spokane, says integrating technology solutions into the corrections market is critical, moving forward, for both the courts and communities. “Courts that aren’t already aggressively looking at technology to improve their offender management programs are already behind the eight ball in terms of managing the connection between alcohol abuse and crime,” says Black.
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 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 drive 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 offenders was drunk at the time of the offense. “Domestic violence offenders are a rapidly growing client base for us,” says Iiams. “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 Second Watch Monitoring
Spokane-based Second Watch Monitoring delivers drug testing, GPS, electronic monitoring and continuous alcohol monitoring programs to courts throughout Washington State. Second Watch employs seven people in offices in Spokane and the Tri Cities area, and will be expanding to Pierce County in 2006.
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 50 people across the U.S. and is a privately-held company headquartered in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.