DUI Offenders Could Face Monitoring Via Ankle Bracelets

Desert Sun Wire Services

An ankle-mounted electronic monitor that can detect when the wearer consumes alcohol is now among the methods by which Riverside County authorities can ensure that convicted DUI offenders are complying with the terms of their probation, it was announced Wednesday.

"Wearing this device…will hopefully lead to some rehabilitation, a reduction in recidivism and a reduction in the loss of life in this county from drunk driving incidents," said Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone, one of the leading proponents of the "Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring" – or SCRAM – device.

As of May1, Riverside County judges have the option to order felony and misdemeanor drunken driving offenders, as part of their probation, to wear a SCRAM ankle sensor device to retrieve data on the type of liquids being consumed.

"It takes a sample every half-hour, stores it in the bracelet, and then that information is downloaded wirelessly via a telephone modem and transferred over the phone lines to analysts," said Linda Connelly, president and chief executive of Leaders in Community Alternatives Inc., the firm supplying the devices.

The eight-ounce bracelet is worn 24 hours a day for periods of three, four, six or 12 months – whatever the probation terms mandate.

The SCRAM program is in place in 35 states and 600 court jurisdictions, and upwards of 60,000 DUI offenders have used the monitoring devices, Connelly said.

"Riverside County is different in that officials here are urging the court to put all felony DUI probationers on SCRAM as part of their sentence," she said. "Most jurisdictions aren't doing that."

She said LCA is making the monitoring devices available to offenders – who pay to wear them – on a sliding scale basis, with costs as low as $5 a day. The San Francisco company has been contracting with public safety agencies since 1991 to implement community-based criminal justice programs. The company needs $12 a day to cover the cost of the products, Connelly said.

"We're taking a big risk by doing this sliding scale," she said. "It's going to take time for courts here to make the bracelets a routine part of the probation process. We ultimately hope that it's going to help people practice clean behavior. So much of alcoholism is a disease. People have to change their mindset in order to make a change in their lives. SCRAM can help make them do that."

Sheila Keslow, a mother of two teenagers, volunteered to wear a SCRAM device as part of her six-month probation for misdemeanor DUI.

"It's been a great tool for me in my recovery," Keslow said. "I hated it at first, but I got used to it, and it has been really helpful. I haven't worn a dress for a while – that's the downside. But if I can wear it, anybody can wear it."

Littleton, Colo.-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems Inc. developed the SCRAM technology and maintains a staff of analysts to interpret the data streamed from the devices, which is then passed on to law enforcement.

According to AMS literature, the SCRAM sensor pack measures ethanol vapor, or sweat, as it migrates from pores in the skin. The sensor can pick up a blood-alcohol level or .02 or above. The devices have tamper detection systems that reveal when an offender is trying to inhibit or remove them.

Five misdemeanor DUI offenders are currently wearing the SCRAM devices in Riverside County, according to District Attorney Rod Pacheco.

"I would caution that this should not operate as a substitute for custody," he said. "It's part and parcel of the overall (sentencing) package. It's not a get-out-of-jail free card."