Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Keeping drunks dry through technocorrections?

One of the criminal justice trends I've failed to track as closely on Grits as the subject probably merits is the rise of so-called technocorrections, using technology instead of jails and prisons to monitor offenders in the community. The two most successful technocorrections monitoring solutions so far have arguably been GPS tracking (usually with an ankle monitor) and ignitition interlock devices that require DWI recidivists to blow into a breathalyzer before their car will start.

The latest technocorrections innovation combines the use of an ankle monitor with alcohol detection technology to directly monitor alcohol consumption by a probationer. According to a press release from the vendor (Denver-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems Inc.):
The state of Texas is now the largest user of a high-tech, alternative sentencing program that aims to shift the focus from "warehousing" offenders and sanctioning cars to battling what judges call the root cause of the DUI epidemic: the alcohol addiction.

Known as Continuous Alcohol Monitoring (CAM) Programs, the foundation is a high-tech anklet, worn 24/7, that actually tests an offender's sweat every 30 minutes, around the clock, in order to measure for any alcohol consumption. The system, known as SCRAM (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor), is currently monitoring 1,300 DUI offenders each day in the state of Texas. More than 6,000 offenders have been monitored since Dallas and Tarrant County courts first began to use the system in late 2003. Today, 71 Texas counties have access to the technology, predominantly to monitor drunk drivers. Michigan, with the second largest daily number of SCRAM clients, currently monitors just under 900 offenders statewide each day.

The purpose of the system, according to corrections officials, is to target the high-risk, repeat DUI offenders who are struggling with addiction. "These individuals aren't driving drunk over and over because they want to break the law, they're driving drunk because they have a drinking problem, and when they drink, bad things happen," says Mike Iiams, chairman and CEO of Denver-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems, which manufactures and markets SCRAM to courts in 46 states, including Texas. "Studies show that people drive intoxicated an average of 300 times before they actually get caught," says Iiams. "This isn't just a criminal issue, and it's not an automobile issue. This is an addiction issue."

According to retired Texas District Court Judge Vickers Cunningham, who first began to use SCRAM on high-risk offenders in his Dallas court in 2003, the system's 24/7 testing protocol not only helped him to better manage offenders, it began to have a significant impact on the lives of offenders and their families. "It's easy to lock people up and throw away the key. But all you have to do is look at the repeat offender statistics to know that just wasn't working," says Cunningham, who now works for Dallas-based Recovery Healthcare, which manages the SCRAM program for courts in 50 Texas counties. "What I quickly began to find with alcohol-addicted offenders is that, when you effectively remove alcohol from the equation 24/7, they begin to become productive members of the community. They pay taxes, they work and they support their families. It changes lives." ...

In 2007, citing exorbitant expenditures to build jails and prisons in Texas, with little corresponding improvement in recidivism rates or overcrowding, the Texas legislature approved a paradigm shift in the management of offenders, including the expansion of drug treatment and diversion programs that include alternative monitoring technologies such as SCRAM. The goal is to decrease spending and prison population growth rates, as well as recidivism, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of those convicted each year for drunk driving, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.


Rex Thompson said...

I have several clients on the SCRAM (court-ordered). It seems to work well but I doubt it will be a practical solution on a macro level because of the cost. It runs somewhere around $400 per month, which most of the criminal defendants in Texas will not be able to pay.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You're right, Rex. That's why, IMO, if these devices work the state should pay for them - same with ignition interlocks. It's a lot cheaper than incarceration if their probation is revoked.

Anonymous said...

I wish I knew a bit more about this SCRAM device. The person who wears it wears it voluntarialy and pays for it? The person can take it off anytime? I am thinking that the device does nothing invasive and only tests sweat topically.

I would like to know what medicines and chemicals are already in existence that can be taken to permanetly cure alcohol and other addictions. It is my understanding, according to Joyce Riley, (who may be a CIA operative herself) that substances have long been in existence that permanently cure alcohol addiction.

What about crack addiction which I understand is ten times more addictive than alcohol? To problems happen when people indulge their crack addiction. You bet. Do problems happen when people snort cocaine, which I understand is not as addictive as alcohol, and under which influence they will go out and drive.

We must know if technologies exist that are safe and more effective than these SCRAM type devices. If such things do exist, then they are having us gradually go for these SCRAM type devices for all evil reasons.

The devices that are being developed and used at airports to me are in the same class as these SCRAM devices. They are a violation of the Fourth Amendment in my estimation. The courts have ruled that these ever more sophisticated devices at airports are not illegal searches and seizures by a human being and that because they are being done by a machine, they do not fall under the Fourth Amendment. What an ominous interpretation!

Gary Johnson on a recent public access TV show in Austin spoke about many of these newest airport devices. I am pretty sure that these devices blur in to the same kind of devices used for ingress and egress of prisons as well as the SCRAM type devices for people or propation or I guess parole.

What technologies really exist that would be the better and trusted solution to these addictions? Problem is the developers and the controllers of those technologies are not to be trusted. They are the military industrial complex that is installing all the false paradigms and pincer movements on we the people to have us all begging for a police state.

Don Dickson said...

You give me hope, Grits. If the state started paying for this stuff and discontinued all this silly surcharge nonsense, we might actually start getting someplace.

And the automakers, don't get me started on the automakers....for $25 billion they ought to at least be able to give us an ignition system that requires sobriety to operate.

Anonymous said...

There have been some serious reliability problems with SCRAM devices. Mainly through false positives, where the device showed alcohol consumption but a temporally concurrent breath test showed no alcohol. Also, to answer a question posed here, the devices are tamper-proof and cannot be removed by the wearer without setting off a tamper alarm.

Don said...

Anon 10:43--Right. I would think the device would be subject to the same reliability and accuracy problems as the breath machines, including the ignition interlock systems. Primarily, that there are other substances that can cause a positive reading, and that everybody's system is different. The problem with this technocorrections stuff is that once it becomes accepted, even with the failings, it pretty much can't be contested. False positives are a problem.

To Anon. 8:50. Goodness. I imagine that there are multitudes of us that would like to know about a substance that could be taken to permanently cure alcohol addiction. Also, paranoid schizophrenia, depression, and delusional disorder, (which you and Joyce Riley might want to check into), and all manner of brain diseases. Substance dependence disorder is a multi-faceted, extremely complex disorder, impacted by physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and other factors. This magic bullet of which you speak has long been sought, and is as elusive as ever. Given the complexities, that approach is simplistic and naive.

Anonymous said...

Good God! Anything can be declared an "addiction", and now the state will apply "technocorrections" to these "addictions"????

So will the legal limit for alcohol be enforced, or is any alcohol presence to be techno-monitored? What if he or she uses Listerine or medicines which contain alcohol? And is it just techno-monitoring, or is it also techno-corrections, like a dog's no-bark collar?

It seems to me that someone busted for a legally defined behavior is then held to a higher standard than the freakin' pope or Jesus Christ just so that state psychiatrists can try out new and ever-more bizarre theories of coercion. By the way, one would be well to keep in mind the army psychiatrists that were instrumental in devising torture ethics in the war in Iraq.

Just curious, but I couldn't help but wonder if someone busted for prostitution could also be zapped with the doggy bark-collar for getting an erection, using the same sort of reasoning?

Anonymous said...

I can see that $400 per month could be a lot, but think about how much money hardcore alcoholics spend on alcohol. They would be investing in their own sobriety. And studies show that the longer someone is on treatment for alcoholism, the more likely they will refrain from it in the future.

Here is an article posted on Join Together just this week about length of treatment:

Rex Thompson said...

all the posts have merit. There are compelling arguments on both sides. Unfortunately, in Smith County we don't believe in rehabilitation. Our probation department should be re-named "Pre-Jail". There will be much resistance from DA's across the state to a system of state-sponsored devices.

Anonymous said...

I know this is an older post. However, I have been a regular "Grits" reader for close to a year now.
My husband is currently in TDC for his 4th DWI. His last was 7 years ago. He was never given court-ordered treatment of any kind, & his last visit to TDC didn't give him any accountability or programs on that either. I'm not playing the "blame game", just giving facts. Like TDC he thought incarceration would make him stop drinking, little did anyone know he was an alcoholic. It finally took me and his family to intervene and throw his butt into long-term rehab for him to dry out and straighten up.

I've been a huge advocate for SCRAM for a while now. And of course my husband is near his Parole Eligibility within a few months. With research I did find that the Texas Parole Board has used SCRAM in a pilot program back in April 2008...successfully.

However, in chatting with others who have current/past loved ones in TDC, none of them have been Paroled with this great piece of technology.

SCRAM should be more implemented on the Parole level. Why not?! If the inmate is willing to pay for it, it's a heck of a lot cheaper to put them on that than it is to keep them in prison. They can then return to their families and be productive citizens. In addition, the inmate will EVENTUALLY get out of prison anyway, so even if it's sooner than later...might as well give them a strict amount of accountability. And of course, from the states point of view, it keeps overcrowding down in the prisons. It is expensive, about $250/month. But in my husband's case, he has a job offer that will pay him approx $40,000-50,000/year. So, we'd rather him be out and contributing and bonding with our infant son (and pay legal fees) than to be wasting away in a cell doing absolutely nothing (again, TDC hasn't placed him in any programs, regardless of his MANY requests).