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Montana Courts Use Alcohol-Sensing Anklet
Alcohol Bracelet
HELENA – If you appear in court on a drunken-driving charge, the judge may tell you to SCRAM.

That's SCRAM, a registered trademark that stands for Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor. It's another enforcement tool against drunken driving: an alcohol-sensing ankle bracelet that tests your sweat to see if you've been drinking.

Montana is among 46 states where the SCRAM technology is in use. Several courts in the state are using the technology. The ankle bracelet is worn 24 hours a day, testing offenders every 30 minutes to ensure that drunk drivers and other alcohol-triggered offenders are in compliance with court-ordered sobriety.

Actress Lindsay Lohan became an unintended model for the ankle bracelet when she wore one after her 2007 arrest for drunken driving and drug possession.

As of March 31, SCRAM had monitored almost 94,000 offenders nationwide, including about 600 in Montana.

Most electronic monitoring programs across the country operate on the offender-pay plan, where the offenders pay all or a significant portion of the daily fee, typically from $12 to $15 a day, relieving taxpayers and counties of the cost.

Many jurisdictions find that using the bracelet as a sentencing option helps ease overcrowding in county jails.

Butte-Silver Bow Justice of the Peace Bob Lee is a strong proponent of the SCRAM program and was instrumental in getting it started in his county a couple of months ago.

"It's a great avenue to take for public safety with these people who have a tendency to drive and drink," Lee said in a recent Associated Press interview.

"Just locking people up and keeping them in custody is not solving the alcohol problem," Lee said. "If you institute the SCRAM program it keeps the person out of jail, they can contribute positively to the community, they can keep the family as one unit and there's no cost to the taxpayer."

Lee said that seven offenders were currently wearing the ankle bracelets in Butte-Silver Bow. They pay a daily fee of $12 and the program can be anywhere from 30 to 120 days depending on the offense and the offender.

The device is manufactured by Alcohol Monitoring Systems Inc. of Littleton, Colo., and is in use in 18 Montana counties, including the cities of Billings, Missoula, Great Falls, Kalispell, Bozeman, Helena, Butte, Miles City and Polson.

"We think these things have a lot of promise," said Mineral County Attorney Shaun Donovan.

The county runs a separate drug court which also handles alcohol offenders, whom Donovan says are now routinely put on SCRAM units for 30 days.

"We think most of the people that come into the drug court have a sincere desire to want to change their life," he said. "One of the main things we can do is to support their desire; and if they know they're going to get caught, that's a real incentive to them."

Gallatin County has been using the SCRAM anklets for three years and, unlike some other counties, it bought 20 SCRAM units directly from the manufacturer and doesn't work through a third-party service provider.

"We have (all) 20 units in service. We pretty much keep all the ones we have active," said Eric Bryson, the county's director of court services.

But not everyone thinks the SCRAM technology is a great idea.

"The science isn't good enough for a court to rely on. It works a lot of the time, but that's not enough to revoke someone's probation," said Jack King, a spokesman for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Washington, D.C.

"It should be used as a tool to encourage sobriety, perhaps as a condition to probation ... but by itself it's not reliable enough to send somebody to jail," King said.

Critics point out that the one study evaluating the SCRAM ankle bracelet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal was paid for by AMS — but only in part, said AMS spokeswoman Kathleen Brown.

"We contributed to it but the bulk of the funding came from other sources," Brown said.

The 2006 study by Dr. Joseph Sakai and colleagues at the University of Colorado was published in the journal Alcoholism Clinical and Experimental Research.

Aside from one Michigan case in which SCRAM evidence was disallowed — before the study was published — courts have accepted the bracelet's validity and embraced it as a sentencing option.

"SCRAM is a great way to supervise conditions of sentence," said Gallatin County's Bryson. "We can make better bed-space allocations. It also helps hold people accountable."
 
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