Judges Shift Focus to Battling Addiction
DALLAS, TX—The state of Texas is now the largest user of a high-tech, alternative sentencing program that aims to shift the focus from “warehousing” offenders and sanctioning cars to battling what judges call the root cause of the DUI epidemic: the alcohol addiction.
Known as Continuous Alcohol Monitoring (CAM) Programs, the foundation is a high-tech anklet, worn 24/7, that actually tests an offender’s sweat every 30 minutes, around the clock, in order to measure for any alcohol consumption. The system, known as SCRAM (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor), is currently monitoring 1,300 DUI offenders each day in the state of Texas. More than 6,000 offenders have been monitored since Dallas and Tarrant County courts first began to use the system in late 2003. Today, 71 Texas counties have access to the technology, predominantly to monitor drunk drivers. Michigan, with the second largest daily number of SCRAMclients, currently monitors just under 900 offenders statewide each day.
The purpose of the system, according to corrections officials, is to target the high-risk, repeat DUI offenders who are struggling with addiction. “These individuals aren’t driving drunk over and over because they want to break the law, they’re driving drunk because they have a drinking problem, and when they drink, bad things happen,” says Mike Iiams, chairman and CEO of Denver-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems, which manufactures and markets SCRAM to courts in 46 states, including Texas. “Studies show that people drive intoxicated an average of 300 times before they actually get caught,” says Iiams. “This isn’t just a criminal issue, and it’s not an automobile issue. This is an addiction issue.”
According to retired Texas District Court Judge Vickers Cunningham, who first began to use SCRAM on high-risk offenders in his Dallas court in 2003, the system’s 24/7 testing protocol not only helped him to better manage offenders, it began to have a significant impact on the lives of offenders and their families. “It’s easy to lock people up and throw away the key. But all you have to do is look at the repeat offender statistics to know that just wasn’t working,” says Cunningham, who now works for Dallas-based Recovery Healthcare, which manages the SCRAM program for courts in 50 Texas counties. “What I quickly began to find with alcohol-addicted offenders is that, when you effectively remove alcohol from the equation 24/7, they begin to become productive members of the community. They pay taxes, they work and they support their families. It changes lives.”
Texas Programs Saving Tax Dollars
In 2007, citing exorbitant expenditures to build jails and prisons in Texas, with little corresponding improvement in recidivism rates or overcrowding, the Texas legislature approved a paradigm shift in the management of offenders, including the expansion of drug treatment and diversion programs that include alternative monitoring technologies such as SCRAM. The goal is to decrease spending and prison population growth rates, as well as recidivism, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of those convicted each year for drunk driving, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Also consistent with the legislature’s 2007 revamp of the state’s parole practices, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Parole Division conducted a successful pilot of the SCRAM System in April of this year, and officials are currently working to integrate the technology as a transitional tool for offender re-entry.
The average daily cost of the SCRAM System is $12 a day, and all or a significant portion of that cost is paid for by the offender. Compared to the average of $44 a day it costs to incarcerate an offender in Texas—at taxpayer expense—the cost savings of these programs to the state are extraordinary, notes Cunningham.
Singled out in the most recent report, One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008 from the PEW Center on the States, Texas is considered a forerunner in the integration of new criminal justice practices. According to the report, one year after instituting systemic changes, the Texas Legislative Budget Board predicts no increase in the state’s prison population for the next five years. In addition, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Texas also saw a decrease in alcohol-related traffic fatalities of nearly 5 percent in 2007.
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 conducted 180 million alcohol tests on 79,000 offenders in 46 states. Alcohol Monitoring Systems employs 104 people across the U.S. and is a privately-held company headquartered in Littleton, Colorado.