DALLAS—Six Texas counties and one Dallas-based company may have found the best weapon yet in the war on drunk drivers. Dallas-based Recovery Healthcare Corporation, a leading provider of treatment and testing services for many of the state’s courts and probation departments, began leasing a new 24-hour-a-day alcohol testing system in November, and the results have caught the interest of many throughout the state of Texas.
Designed to automatically test DWI offenders 24 times per day for weeks or months at a time, SCRAM™—the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor™—hit the market in April of 2003 and is already being used in some of the country’s largest jurisdictions, including Maricopa County in Arizona and Orange County, California. Currently in use in Dallas, Denton, Rockwall, Kaufman, Collin and Palo Pinto counties, SCRAM is being touted as the best tool to fight repeat DWI offenders to hit the market in more than a decade.
SCRAM was specifically designed for application in long-term alcohol monitoring programs where abstinence is required. The system includes a conventional bracelet/modem combination like a home arrest system. But the breakthrough comes in the introduction of Transdermal Testing. The bracelet, worn around-the-clock, automatically samples an offender’s perspiration at least once every hour in order to determine Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). According to Mike Iiams, chairman and CEO of Denver-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS), this testing technology gives judges and probation officers an unprecedented level of assessment and accountability when dealing with DWI offenders. “Recidivism rates are astounding across the country, and nothing to-date has made a dent in that problem,” says Iiams. Unlike most drugs, alcohol metabolizes very quickly, and alcohol- testing programs such as breath, blood and urine testing are only effective at catching violators during a very narrow window of time. As a result, these programs are generally considered far less effective than drug testing when it comes to catching violators. “We needed to find a way to minimize the resources required for testing and supervision while maximizing accuracy and accountability. Testing someone 24 times per day, every day, no matter where they’re at or what they’re doing, provides exactly that accountability,” says Iiams.
More than 47 percent of traffic fatalities on Texas roadways each year are the result of a drunk driver—more than any other state in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Both treatment and corrections experts agree that when it comes to what is known as the “hard-core drunk driver”—those who repeatedly drink and drive—the problem is addiction, and breaking that cycle means breaking the addiction. Across the U.S., nearly 60,000 offenders are incarcerated for DWI convictions, and 500,000 are on probation for a drunk-driving-related incident. These numbers don’t include those involved in alcohol-related offenses that may have been convicted of a crime other than DWI, such as vehicular homicide or manslaughter, or for those who plea-bargained to non-alcohol related offenses. In total, 1.5 million drivers are arrested for DWI nationwide each year. Those offenders place a heavy burden on states to incarcerate or manage them. Today, more than 1,400 drug and DWI courts are in existence around the country, focusing resources on alternative ways to handle drug and alcohol offenders.
According to Larry Vanderwoude, executive director of Recovery Healthcare, both judges and probation officers are extremely happy with SCRAM as an alternative to both incarceration and random alcohol testing. Judge Vickers Cunningham of the 283rd District Court in Dallas County was the first in the state to incorporate SCRAM into their DWI offender program, focusing on the hard-core, repeat DWI offenders who would otherwise be in the penitentiary. “Judge Cunningham and many of the courts using SCRAM liked this system from the very beginning because they see immediate intervention and instant consequences for violations,” says Vanderwoude. Given the high recidivism rates for drug and alcohol offenders, Vanderwoude claims the ability to quickly identify and deal with violators is a win-win for everyone. “These people have an alcohol problem, period. With other programs, there is ample opportunity for them to drink without getting caught, and they know it. Now, we know within hours if they are in violation.” According to Vanderwoude,SCRAM is a constant reminder to the offender and provides unprecedented accountability for judges and probation departments. “An offender in Judge Cunningham’s court drank the night before his court date. That report was in front of the judge before his hearing, and he went to jail. We likely would have never known about that violation without SCRAM.” Vanderwoude says 80 percent of those in Texas who have been sentenced to wear SCRAM would otherwise be in the state penitentiary. The other 20 percent are wearingSCRAM pre-trial, which means both the judge and Recovery Healthcare can use SCRAM as an assessment tool, as well as for detection and deterrence. “SCRAM lets us quickly evaluate the severity of their drinking problem and their risk to the community, so that we can do a better job of dealing with these offenders.”
Recovery initially anticipated their clients would wear SCRAM for 90 days. But the system proved so effective at keeping tabs on DWI offenders that many will be wearing SCRAM much longer, some even for the duration of their probation. “For most, their alternative is the penitentiary,” says Vanderwoude. “These people need to learn how to live their lives alcohol-free, and they can’t do that in prison. But at the same time, we need to be able to account for their behavior and protect the community in the process. Now we have a way to do both of those things.”
Recovery Healthcare expects their program to continue to grow in the state of Texas at a rate of 10 units a month and anticipates additional counties will add SCRAM to their programs in 2004. “We’ve had a lot of interest in SCRAMfrom all over the state,” says Vanderwoude. According to Iiams, as jurisdictions have implemented the SCRAM System, many are seeing the value of using SCRAM on DWI offenders much earlier in the cycle—as both a pre-trial assessment tool and a detection/deterrence tool after the first offense. “Identifying the problem drinkers after a first offense will go a long way toward preventing subsequent DWI offenses,” says Iiams. That’s a win-win situation for everyone—the offender, the state and certainly the community.”
As with most monitoring programs, the offenders are responsible for the cost of the SCRAM System, including a refundable deposit, an installation fee and a daily monitoring fee. AMS anticipates that SCRAM will monitor more than 4,000 DWI offenders by the end of 2004.
Founded in 1990, Recovery Healthcare Corporation works with individuals, families, and businesses providing substance abuse assessment, education/intervention, prevention and treatment programs. Recovery Healthcare also provides treatment and monitoring services to courts and probation departments in Dallas, Denton, Rockwall, Kaufman, Collin, Tarrant and Palo Pinto counties. They have offices in both Dallas and Plano.
About Alcohol Monitoring Systems
Established in 1997, Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc. manufactures the world’s only non-invasive alcohol-detection system that automatically tests for alcohol every hour, 24 hours a day, regardless of the offender’s location. SCRAM—the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor—is the first alcohol testing technology to use transdermal analysis to determine an offender’s Blood Alcohol Content. SCRAM fully automates the alcohol testing and reporting process, providing community corrections agencies and treatment organizations nationwide with the ability to classify DUI offenders and assess compliance with sentencing requirements, and treatment guidelines. Alcohol Monitoring Systems is a privately held company headquartered in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.