ISLETA PUEBLO, NM—When offenders come through the tribal court of the Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico, the Honorable Anthony Abeita is employing a technology he says is changing the face of alcohol-fueled crimes in his community.
The technology is called SCRAM (for Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor), and it includes an ankle bracelet, worn 24/7, that actually samples a person’s sweat every 30 minutes in order to test for alcohol consumption. Known as “Continuous Alcohol Monitoring,” the system is currently in use in 46 states, helping courts and treatment providers manage, monitor and rehabilitate the 2.4 million alcohol-fueled offenders who pass through the criminal justice system each year.
On the Isleta Pueblo, which is the first tribe nationwide to utilize the technology, Judge Abeita is ordering SCRAM on DUI and domestic violence offenders, two of the most common alcohol-involved crimes in the community. To-date, the program has monitored 35 people for an average of 80 days each, and Abeita says the results are already significant. “I’m seeing people I’ve known my entire life sober for the first time in 15 or 20 years,” he says. Abeita wants SCRAM to function both as a punishment and as a tool for improving long-term treatment outcomes. “By getting these individuals sober before they even begin their treatment program, our chances of making a long-term impact and reducing repeat offenses are far greater.”
According to Denver-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS), the makers of SCRAM, the Isleta Pueblo program is seeing some remarkable results, with a 100 percent abstinence rate to-date. Also of note is the rate of confirmed tampers—events where offenders try to obstruct the system or remove it all together—which is a relatively high 40 percent. The combined national average for both tampers and confirmed drinking violations is only 21 percent. “That underscores the severity of the addiction issue for these individuals,” says Abeita. “Before SCRAM, we had no way to know who was compliant or needed additional intervention and sanctions. Both numbers tell me that SCRAM is working, it’s making a difference.”
Overcrowded Jails and No Alternatives
The Isleta Pueblo is not alone. Reservations across the U.S. often lack the infrastructure and resources to address the high incidence of alcohol-fueled crime on the reservation, and the problem often extends to surrounding communities. In recent years New Mexico has pushed technologies such as ignition interlock for DWI offenders off the reservations, though Judge Abeita says it’s not a realistic solution for all offenders. “This technology is the only tool that gives me 24-hour assurance that these offenders are being monitored, 48 times a day, both on and off the reservation,” says Abeita. “
Frank Gentry of Sober New Mexico, the company that manages the SCRAMProgram throughout most the state, says the key issue is shifting the focus to monitoring and managing the offender, versus the vehicle. “Tackling the epidemic of repeat offenses is key, and the only way to do that is to separate the alcohol from the individual, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” says Gentry.
In addition to using SCRAM as part of a comprehensive probation program, many communities, including the Isleta Pueblo, use the technology to help manage overcrowding in prisons and jails—a chronic problem for most jurisdictions, but particularly for facilities in Indian Country. The U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that 14 percent of Indian Country inmates are incarcerated for DUI/DWI. Another 18 percent are incarcerated for domestic violence, a crime where the offender is drunk more than 70 percent of the time. “I have very few options for these offenders because our jail is so small,” says Abeita.
Participants in the Isleta Pueblo program are often ordered to contribute to the daily fee for SCRAM. For those who cannot afford the cost, which averages $12 per day nationwide, the tribal court will subsidize the difference. The U.S. averages $64 a day to house offenders in a county or tribal jail. The 24/7 monitoring program also allows the Isleta Pueblo to monitor and manage these offenders for weeks and months, versus very short jail terms that are limited by overcrowding. “The net cost savings are extraordinary,” says Abeita.
Alcohol and Crime: Indian Country Quick Facts
The BJS reports that arrest rates for Native Americans for alcohol violations, including DUI, liquor law violations and drunkenness, are double the national rate. Recidivism rates are also astounding46 percent of Native Americans released from a state prison are re-convicted of a new crime within 3 years. Nearly 62 percent of Native Americans who are victims of a violent crime report that the offender was drunk at the time of the offense, compared to 42 percent for the national average.
“Tribal Courts face a unique set of challenges that make the alcohol and crime issue particularly difficult and costly to manage,” says Gentry, a former judge who has worked with many of New Mexico’s tribal communities for more than 30 years. “Very high levels of alcohol abuse, combined with limited access to programs that really address the root cause of the issue, which is the addiction,” he says. “This device can’t solve the problem by itself, but it’s an absolutely essential tool for any program that is trying to tackle the issue of alcohol abuse and crime.”
Abeita hopes to see the program serve as a model for other tribal communities, where drinking and alcohol abuse are a way of life for so many people. “SCRAM has made a positive impact on the lives of my community members in a way that I never thought was possible,” says Abeita. “This technology offers me the hope and the accountability to make real change happen. It doesn’t happen overnight, but when you see it happen before your own eyes, it’s a very powerful thing.”
About Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc.
Established in 1997, Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc. manufactures SCRAM®, the world’s only Continuous Alcohol Monitoring system, which uses non-invasive transdermal analysis to monitor alcohol consumption.SCRAM 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. Available since 2003, SCRAM has monitored more than 68,000 offenders in 46 states. Alcohol Monitoring Systems employs 99 people across the U.S. and is a privately-held company headquartered in Littleton, Colorado