Drivers convicted of drinking and getting behind the wheel can be ordered to wear unwanted accessories – ankle bracelets that monitor alcohol intake.
Secured Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring, often referred to as SCRAM, is an apparatus judges can order defendants to wear as a penalty for alcohol-related offenses.
In most cases, the person wearing the electronic ankle bracelet has been charged with DWI, said Steve Shaw with Gaston County’s Alternative Community Penalties Program. Shaw said he’s seen the devices used in child visitation matters where a person was diagnosed with a drinking problem.
Howard Pasour’s recent second-degree murder charge has pushed drunken driving and alcohol monitoring into the public spotlight.
Pasour allegedly drove drunk and caused a car crash that killed a local teen, 17-year-old Laura Fortenberry, on July 25. He had been convicted of DWI three times in the past eight years and wore a SCRAM device for a short time in late 2009 and early 2010.
Outside of a slight change in Pasour’s alcohol content readings on Dec. 1, which was so low it was considered unsubstantial, there were no problems, Doug Lance with Alternative Community Penalties Program told The Gazette in a recent interview. On Jan. 12, Pasour was allowed to take the device off.
“When they consume on this, you can tell,” he said. “He was in full compliance.”
Judges typically order defendants to wear the ankle bracelets for 60 days, said Shaw. The devices monitor perspiration for any traces of alcohol. Once a day, the person must plug up the monitor to a docking station that sends data back to the courthouse.
Shaw checks the daily reports. If a positive reading comes back, the person is called in and an arrest warrant is issued if the claim is substantiated. Only one such case has happened since the program started in Gaston County in September 2006.
People ordered to wear the devices must pay a $75 fee to enroll in the program, then get charged $12 a day to wear the bracelet. That can add up to $795 for a 60-day stint.
All of the money is used to pay for the technology, said Shaw.
Though he is a believer in the program, Shaw said it’s not without flaws.
“Most of the issues that we have with this program is the cost. Clients can’t afford it,” said Shaw. “Sometimes the option is that they leave them in jail instead of getting out because they can’t afford to pay for it.”
And old habits die hard for some of the ankle bracelet wearers, according to Shaw.
“I think they prevent people from drinking. It seems like once they’re on it you don’t have any issues with them, but once it’s removed they forget what they’re doing,” he said. “Sometimes they relapse and go back and do what they were doing.”
Alcohol ankle monitors have been wrapped around 70 people since the program’s inception. Most of the clients have been men but a few women participated. The stint of wearing the SCRAM bracelets is typically 60 days though Shaw said he’s seen the devices used as long as 120 days.
If the bracelet is removed, Shaw is alerted. If the wearer drinks a small amount, it’s detected, said Shaw.
“If you even turn up half a beer, it’s going to show it,” he said. “We can tell what they’ve done in that 24-hour period.”
SCRAM helps alleviate overcrowding in the jail and puts some of the financial responsibility back on the person who committed the crime.
Financials aside, the program aims to help rehabilitate, said Shaw. Judges often order alcohol assessment and treatment along with the around-the-clock monitoring.
“We’re more or less the provider to help try to fix people, so to speak. Try to get them help. Give them a chance to get straight,” Shaw said. “It works for some people.”