County probation targets hardcore drunk drivers by requiring, monitoring for long-term sobriety
COEUR D’ALENE, ID—Kootenai County Probation officials are tightening down on the area’s repeat, highest-risk drunk drivers with an intensive supervision program. The goal, according to officials, is to address the root cause of the problem, which is alcohol dependence, and transition people out of the revolving door of the county jail.
According to Senior Probation Officer Kevin Creighton, repeat drunk drivers represent the highest number of case stats on supervised probation in Kootenai County, and they have the highest recidivism rate, as well. Part of the program’s tough approach to drunk drivers is requiring—and monitoring for—sobriety for longer periods while offenders are under the county’s supervision. “Back-to-back DUIs, while they’re under supervision, are very prevalent, and they represent an enormous risk to the community,” says Creighton. “Not to mention the costs involved in managing them repeatedly as they return to community supervision or incarceration,” he adds.
Kootenai County began using 24/7 alcohol monitoring bracelets, known asSCRAMx (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor) bracelets in 2009 as a tool to manage the caseload of repeat drunk drivers, and most wore the ankle bracelet for 90-120 days. To-date the county has monitored 160 repeat drunk drivers with the anklets. While Creighton says the system was a good intermediate sanction, he felt like the 120-day monitoring period wasn’t enough for this population of offenders, known as Hardcore Drunk Drivers. “You could see that these individuals were just getting to the point they were beginning to make better choices because they were sober,” says Creighton, who reports that some offenders actually ask to keep the bracelets on for longer as they struggle to stay sober.
A number of studies on the impact of alcohol abuse on cognitive function and cognition seem to support Creighton’s observations. Alcohol is known to heavily impact the part of the brain responsible for reason and decision-making. Brain imaging studies consistently show that impairment remains for the first few months of abstinence, but begins to return over a period of months and up to one year into sobriety. In addition, a study out of North Carolina published by the National Center for State Courts looked at recidivism rates of Hardcore Drunk Drivers two years after they were monitored 24/7 for alcohol. The study concluded that the enforced sobriety had the most significant impact on the highest-risk, heaviest drinkers, greatly reducing recidivism rates. The researchers recommended that monitoring periods be a minimum of 90 days, but that the most alcohol-dependent offender should be monitored for sobriety while undergoing treatment for six months to one year in order to see the strongest long-term impact.
Creighton agrees, reporting that it’s generally the 240- to 250-day mark where they start to see true behavioral changes. “That’s the threshold, the point where offenders begin to change the negative behaviors in their lives. They begin to make better choices about their families. They’re maintaining long-term employment, and they’re beginning to see the benefits of treatment,” he says. Kootenai County’s compliance rates seem to underscore the benefits of the program. According to AMS, the average compliance rate nationwide is 77%, meaning 77% of offenders who wear the bracelet have no violations. But in Kootenai that compliance rate is 87%, one of the highest in the country. “I now believe that with the right tools, you can truly change the course of people’s lives,” says Creighton.
The Century Council defines Hardcore Drunk Drivers as offenders who have had repeat DUI arrests in the last 3 years, are arrested with a high BAC(exceeding .015, nearly twice the legal limit) and comprise 40% of all DUI convictions (whether sentenced to jail or community supervision) each year. Assessment tools show that 98% of HDDs have a personal history of alcohol abuse and account for 77% of alcohol-related traffic fatalities.
The anklets are provided to Kootenai County via Moon Security Services, a Pasco, Washington,-based monitoring company that manages the SCRAMx offenders in the area. According to Creighton, while the program is on average 88% less expensive each day than the $72 per day it costs to put drunk drivers in the Kootenai County Jail, he’s working to find a way to transition the program from a county-funded program to one that incorporates an offender-pay system in order to offset the costs. “In order to begin utilizing the system on other high-risk alcohol offenders, such as domestic violence offenders, and maintain the length of monitoring we are finding to be the most effective, we are working to implement a payment program that is consistent with what most jurisdictions in the U.S. are using today,” he says. According to Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS), the Denver-based company that manufactures and markets the SCRAMx System, more than 80% of all programs in the U.S. are offender-funded, where offenders pay all or a significant portion of the daily monitoring fee. To-date AMS has monitored more than 215,000 offenders in 48 states.
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. AMS employs 126 people across the U.S. and is a privately-held company headquartered in Littleton, Colorado.