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Decatur Tribune, September 13, 2011
Prosecutors in Macon and Champaign counties are crediting a focus on Hard Core Drunk Drivers (HCDDs) and the use of technology for record drops in DUI arrest rates since 2008—a reduction thats nearly four times that of the states average.
From 2008 to 2010, Macon County DUI arrests have dropped 30.6%, while Champaign County saw a 29.8% drop during the same time frame. Illinois statewide saw an 8.3% decrease in roughly the same time period. According to Macon County States Attorney Jack Ahola, his county has had no reduction in DUI enforcement efforts during that period, and hes crediting the implementation of a 24/7 continuous alcohol monitoring program with helping to change the trend of repeat DUIs in his county.
Drunk drivers, and in particular the hard core, repeat offenders, put our community at incredible risk, says Ahola. We just arent tolerating it anymore. The numbers for Macon County show 1,057 DUI arrests in 2008, 1,061 in 2009 and 734 in 2010. To date for 2011, there are 437 arrests, on pace for 655 for the year. Since 2008, both Macon and Champaign counties have been utilizing SCRAMx alcohol monitors. SCRAMx is an ankle bracelet system that actually tests an offenders sweat every 30 minutes to ensure compliance with court-ordered sobriety. If they arent drinking, they arent drinking and driving. And we put them on SCRAMx long enough to get them sober long-term, not just while theyre under our supervision, says Ahola. DUI offenders in the area are wearing SCRAMx monitors for periods that are double the national average, a fact officials believe is contributing to the behavior change thats driving the significant drop in DUI arrests.When theyre sober long enough, they begin to make different choices. Were clearly seeing the results in our year-to-year DUI arrest numbers adds Ahola.
Bob Nienhouse, president of CAM Systems, which manages SCRAMx and other electronic monitoring programs throughout the Midwest, agrees. Research has clearly shown that the longer the period of sobriety, the more likely it is youll have long-term behavior change with alcohol and drug-addicted individuals, says Nienhouse. We now see Hard Core Drunk Driver programs requiring 365 days of sobriety, enforced with SCRAMx monitoring, while offenders go through treatment and other court-ordered interventions. Nienhouse credits the success in Champaign and Macon counties to the implementation of comprehensive, tough and well-managed DUI programs that send a signal to the community that DUIs are not going to be taken lightly.
Nearly 75% of their SCRAMx clients are fully compliant while theyre monitored. The high compliance rate and the fact that, to our knowledge, no SCRAMx offender in this area has been re-arrested for a DUI, demonstrates that these jurisdictions are moving in the right direction, he says. According to the Century Council, Hard Core Drunk Drivers are defined as drivers with two or more DUI arrest or a high Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) at the time of arrest. They account for more than 40% of all drunk driving convictions every year in the U.S.
An added benefit of the areas sobriety programs is that offenders are required to pay for all or a significant portion of their daily monitoring fees. These counties are seeing results from solid monitoring and offender accountability, and its at no cost to taxpayers, adds Nienhouse. To-date, more than 3,600 offenders have been monitored statewide with SCRAMx.
SCRAMx first became available to the criminal justice system in 2003. To- date the system has monitored more than 190,000 offenders in 48 states. The technology is used to monitor repeat, Hard Core Drunk Drivers, as well as domestic violence offenders and as a supervision tool in family courts.
By Hon. Gregory Paul Vazquez, Fourth Municipal District, Cook County
Attorneys and judges have been seeking optimal sentencing alternatives in cases where alcohol has either played a part in the offense or is a factor that needs to be addressed during the defendant’s sentencing hearing. A relatively recent option is the Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring system, commonly referred to as SCRAM.
Although, SCRAM technology has been available in Illinois for approximately two years, it has been rarely utilized. Since this author believes that this is due to attorneys’ unfamiliarity with the option and lack of publicity of the device, I will first explain what it is, how it operates, and suggest how it might be implemented.
The SCRAM device is simply an ankle bracelet that the subject wears to monitors alcohol intake. This monitoring occurs on a 24/7 basis and is measured by the perspiration given off by the human body. More specifically, the device captures transdermal alcohol readings from continuous samples of vaporous or insensible perspiration collected from the air above the skin. The defendant’s monitoring bracelet sends a signal to a remote location and notifies the provider when a violation or alcohol intake has occurred. As one might expect, the device has several anti-circumvention features. How a violation is dealt with will either be left up to the SCRAM provider or the sentencing judge.
The cost of this sentencing alternative is borne by the client. Generally speaking, the cost is intended to reflect the amount of money the defendant would normally spend on alcohol. Thus, an attorney should keep cost in mind when considering the SCRAM device as an alternative recommendation to the court.
Continuous alcohol monitoring may be used in various types of cases. Probably the most common use will occur in a DUI case. For example, an attorney may find himself defending a client who has had a DUI 10 years ago. Jail time, even if a remote possibility, may still be on the table. Here the judge may desire not to send the defendant to jail if doing so may cause great suffering to the defendant’s family, such as loss of defendant’s employment, inability to attend to a sick family member who solely relies upon the defendant, and other similar circumstances. In this situation, use of SCRAM technology may provide a sentencing alternative; a condition that not only protects the public but also provides a step towards rehabilitation.
The use of SCRAM as a recommendation to the court will illustrate a defendant’s sincere desire for rehabilitation, provide “cover” for the skittish judge who feels jail time is the only way to avoid public criticism, and/or assist a defendant in achieving total abstinence. An attorney offering such a recommendation in those difficult situations will be able to please the client, the judge, and the public.