SCRAM Device Usage On Rise On Shore

BERLIN
– Individuals charged with or convicted of alcohol-related crimes in Worcester
County are increasingly finding themselves fitted with a fairly new, if
somewhat unattractive piece of jewelry as the court system moves toward a 21st
Century technological advance to monitor alcohol intake and whereabouts.

The
Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring (SCRAM) system, essentially an
ankle bracelet attached to an individual charged with or convicted of an
alcohol-related offense, has been around for about three years, but only
recently has it been implemented in Worcester County. The device is attached to
a defendant, either prior to trial or after they have been convicted, as a
means to track their whereabouts and alcohol intake when they have been
court-ordered not to imbibe.

The
SCRAM bracelet attached to an individual automatically captures transdermal
alcohol readings twice an hour by sampling the perspiration of the individuals
wearing it. The perspiration samples are sent to a modem in the individual’s
home and those samples are then transmitted to the company that supplies the
technology.

On the
other end, technicians carefully monitor the data provided by the bracelet and
forwarded through the modem. If irregularities are detected, the information is
then sent to the appropriate law enforcement or judicial agency on the
defendant’s end. Locally, the SCRAM bracelets are supplied by and installed on
individuals by Ocean Answer, a West Ocean City-based company that provides the
systems to agencies across the Eastern Shore.

Ocean
Answer representatives work closely with the local court systems and parole and
probation departments to provide the SCRAM bracelets for individuals required
to wear them. The data collected is forwarded to technicians in Colorado who
interpret the results and send the information back to Worcester County
officials in this case.

Ocean
Answer representative Connor Braniff said this week the SCRAM system has been
around since about 2008 and has been used extensively in other parts of the
country, but has just recently been implemented more frequently on the Lower
Shore.

“It’s
not entirely new, but it’s being used more and more recently,” he said. “Judge
[Gerald] Purnell in District Court has been using it extensively since January
and it is also being used in Circuit Court, adult drug court and even family
court in many cases.”

The
local court system has been using the SCRAM device as an alternative to
incarceration in more serious cases to supervised probation in others. Purnell
said this week the SCRAM system has been an essential tool at his disposal in
cases where an individual’s alcohol intake needs to be closely monitored.

“The
way I look at it, with the court system overburdened with an increased
workload, it’s one more tool we have at our disposal to monitor the alcohol
intake and whereabouts of defendants without an added burden on the parole and
probation people,” he said.

In one
recent case in District Court, a West Ocean City man convicted on a resisting
arrest charge after fighting with police during a domestic incident was
sentenced to a year in jail, which was then suspended in favor of the SCRAM
monitoring system. Purnell opted to utilize the SCRAM system for the defendant,
who was generally a productive, working member of society but admitted he got
into trouble when he was drinking.

In many
cases, the SCRAM system is utilized for first-time DWI arrestees to determine
if their offense was a one-time incident or indicative of a potential pattern
of recidivism. In other cases, the SCRAM device is fitted on individuals
charged with a second or third DWI, either prior to or after a conviction or
sentencing.

Akin to
house arrest, the SCRAM device allows individuals to continue to work and go
about their lives without being incarcerated. Not only does it monitor the
alcohol intake of an individual, but it’s also fitted with a GPS chip to
closely monitor where they are going and what they’re doing.

“If a
person is convicted of a second DWI and is waiting sentencing, I can see if
they are doing everything they are supposed to be doing, or not doing,” Purnell
said. “It’s an invaluable tool for monitoring the alcohol intake and
whereabouts of known offenders.”

Because
the use of the SCRAM system has obvious “big brother” overtones, it has been
challenged unsuccessfully in different parts of the country. In most cases,
defendants required to wear the bracelets do so willingly because the
alternative is often incarceration or strict probation monitoring.

“I’m
not aware of any case law that has overturned the use of the SCRAM device,”
said Purnell. “It obviously flirts with civil liberties infractions, but given
the alternative, most accept the bracelets willingly.”

Braniff
said there are plenty of examples of individuals charged with alcohol-related
offenses voluntarily asking for the SCRAM device before they even appear for
trial. For example, the local man who hit and killed a bicyclist on the Route
50 bridge last summer voluntarily submitted to the SCRAM system in advance of
any court proceedings.

“In
many cases, private attorneys are putting the device on their clients in
advance of any trials or court proceedings to prove to judges they are serious
about getting and staying sober,” he said. “There are plenty examples of that
going on in Worcester County.”

For
years, the courts have implemented the ignition interlock system for convicted
drunk drivers, which requires individuals to blow in a device attached to their
vehicles in order to be able to start them. State lawmakers this year, at the
insistence of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and other groups, considered
legislation making ignition interlock mandatory in most drunk-driving cases,
but Braniff said while the interlock device has been successful, it may have
outlived its usefulness because of the obvious ways around the system.

“The
technology everybody has been focused on for so long is the interlock system
for vehicles, but that’s kind of obsolete,” he said. “That doesn’t monitor the
individual, it monitors the vehicle. In terms of treatment, the interlock
treats the car, not the individual.”

While
he still relies on the interlock system somewhat, Purnell agreed the SCRAM
system has provided a more effective means to monitor offenders.

“MADD
has pushed for increased use of interlock and there has been legislation
introduced to do that, but in that short period of time, new technology has
surpassed the interlock system,” he said. “I still sentence people to enter the
interlock system and it still has value, but there are ways of getting around
it. Forget about putting a device on their car, put it on the person.”

Purnell
said the SCRAM system allows judges, law enforcement officials and probation
officers to monitor individuals around the clock without visiting them in
person or requiring them to check in frequently.

“One of
the best features is that it allows us to download the results in real time,”
he said. “If I’m concerned about a particular person, I can pull up their
information and see what they’ve been up to and where they are going without
sending out a parole or probation officer. There is no lag time between a
possible incident and checking up on them in person.”

 

One comment on “SCRAM Device Usage On Rise On Shore

  1. How much doesnthe scram bracelet cost if court ordered? I heard 350 a month. But I also heard 7 dollars a day if wcdc is a third party?

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