Watching any episode of COPS will prove the statistically verifiable fact that one of the biggest problems for the criminal justice system isn’t marijuana, cocaine or heroine, it’s alcohol. Courts regularly deal with people who drink too much and climb behind the wheel, abuse their families, or commit other crimes. Recently, the courts have been introduced to a little-known new way of dealing with repeat offenders – an ankle bracelet that can detect a user’s blood alcohol level.
It’s called a Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor, or SCRAM. The monitor works by sampling a wearer’s perspiration, which contains imperceptible amounts of alcohol. This method of transdermal, or "through-the-skin" sampling is less accurate than other methods of detecting blood alcohol levels, so instead of giving an exact percentage of alcohol in the blood, it determines whether the wearer has consumed a small, moderate or large amount of booze. This information is sampled every hour and logged for future use. It could, for instance, be used to prove in court that a man violated the terms of his probation by heavily imbibing.
This use isn’t just hypothetical either, the devices are already being employed around the country. Since it was introduced in April 2003, the bracelet has been slapped on 36,000 offenders in more than 1,000 court systems. Authorities hope it will help cut down on the 1.4 million DUI arrests annually.
The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 17.6 million Americans are dependent on or abuse alcohol. "The numbers are staggering," says Ron Pentz, COO of Total Court Services, Inc., the company that provides SCRAM systems to Los Angeles County courts. "The problem is drinking — the addiction. And the courts are starting to respond accordingly. If an offender isn’t drinking, then they’re not drinking and driving – or drinking and assaulting their spouse or children. It’s that simple."