July 9, 2010 By Elaine Pittman
under the age of 21 who have been charged with repeated alcohol-related offenses.
One of the main benefits for offenders wearing the device is to continue their daily routine. "The SCRAM technology permits the offenders to remain employed so they can fulfill their family obligations, and they can remain in [sobriety] treatment or can be admitted into treatment," said Probation Officer Tammy Berg.
Offenders in Missouri pay $12 per day to cover SCRAM's operating cost, an amount that was set by the court. This is also, not surprisingly, the main complaint people have with being required to wear the bracelet. Berg said when offenders are removed from the program, they participate in a survey and SCRAM's cost is the only negative response the court system has received so far. "However, in the same survey they indicate that they would spend around $10 a day on their 12-pack of beer," she said. "So they're really only out $2 a day for the device."
Following the beta testing in 2003, the Michigan Department of Corrections officially began using SCRAM in 2004. The department's parole board and the state's circuit court judges can require parolees and offenders to wear the devices.
SCRAM isn't the first alcohol-tracking technology Michigan has used. The state previously tried the Sobrietor, a remote breath-testing device that uses phone and power lines. The device worked in conjunction with radio-frequency curfew monitoring, so officials knew when offenders were home and would call and require a sobriety test. But the department switched to SCRAM because of its 24-hour monitoring capability, Roach said.
One big benefit for Michigan is that SCRAM keeps some offenders out of prison. "It allows the courts a sentencing alternative rather than incarceration," he said, "so that savings comes in the form of prison beds and jail beds."
In Michigan, SCRAM wearers pay $13 per day to cover the system's cost. In contrast, the state spends approximately $83 per day to incarcerate one inmate, according to a 2007 Senate Fiscal Agency report. Roach said the state doesn't require the users to pay SCRAM's fee up front because the true cost savings come from not having the person incarcerated.
The technology has improved over the years, Roach said. "It used to be a very cumbersome device -- it looked like a pair of old stereo headphones from the '70s," he said adding that SCRAM is now more comfortable and less likely to come off the offender.
Could the technology be used to monitor for other drugs? Probably not. Alcohol Monitoring Systems' Brown said the current random drug testing performed by jurisdictions is a good system. "It's very cost-effective and very good at catching drug use because drugs tend to leave residual indicators in your body a lot longer than alcohol," she said.
Still, the device has evolved. In early 2010, the company released a new version, SCRAMx, that can monitor alcohol consumption and the offender's location --combining house arrest and booze control in one unit. All SCRAM units will be updated with the new technology this year, and jurisdictions will have the option of using the location monitoring function.
Missouri's Bouchard would like to see SCRAM move even further into the 21st century by connecting with a smartphone every 30 or 60 minutes. "So you would receive immediate notification if there's an alcohol event as opposed to waiting until someone downloads," he said, "but the downloads are daily and that happens pretty darn quick."
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