Alcohol Monitoring and SCRAM Systems

How continuous alcohol monitoring systems work and when they’re required in DUI/DWI cases.

When criminal defendants are released from jail (on bond or probation), the court often wants to put measures in place to make sure they stay out of trouble. Electronic ankle bracelets can be used to monitor the location and even alcohol consumption of the wearer. When these devices monitor alcohol consumption, they are often called "continuous remote alcohol monitoring" (SCRAM) bracelets. This article covers how SCRAM bracelets work and when a court might require them.

What Is an Alcohol Monitoring SCRAM Bracelet?

A SCRAM bracelet is an electronic bracelet that is typically worn on the ankle. The purpose of a SCRAM bracelet is to monitor whether the person wearing it has consumed alcohol. The details of how this monitoring works are explained in detail below.

How Do SCRAM Bracelets Monitor Alcohol Consumption?

Transdermal sampling. When consumed, alcohol is metabolized. Most is processed and expelled by the kidneys but a small amount (about 1%) is secreted from skin pores. Once the alcohol evaporates through the skin, a fuel cell within the SCRAM device measures the amount of ethanol gas within the insensible perspiration (vapor). Testing via the skin is called transdermal testing.

Monitoring agency and reporting positive samples. The SCRAM device usually obtains a transdermal sample every 30 minutes or so and sends the results to the monitoring agency. If alcohol is detected, the agency will notify the appropriate court, police department, or agency responsible for supervision. Transdermal testing does not record an immediate and exact blood alcohol concentration (BAC), but instead provides a report of drinking "incidents."

Tampering with the device. The SCRAM device is effective at reporting alcohol usage, but other interferants can trigger an alert. Since mouthwash and cologne often have alcohol, their use can create a false-positive alert. The bracelet will also send an alert if the owner attempts to tamper with or remove the bracelet. These devices have a number of sensors that will send alerts if disrupted. The devices are waterproof to allow for bathing but extended submersion might be reported as an attempt to avoid perspiration detection.

Do SCRAM Bracelets Detect Drugs and Alcohol?

SCRAM bracelets detect only alcohol. When drug use is a concern, a court or probation department would most likely use other monitoring methods such as drug-test patches or urine testing.

When Do Courts Require SCRAM Bracelets?

Alcohol monitoring is most common in DUI/DWI cases and for other crimes involving alcohol. However, SCRAM devices can also be used for GPS and house-arrest monitoring.

In many cases, a judge will order a SCRAM bracelet in lieu of jail time. With the SCRAM bracelet, the judge can ensure the defendant isn't drinking alcohol, and if the defendant does drink, the device will report a violation. A violation could result in revocation of probation or release on bail.

What Are the Costs Associated With a SCRAM Bracelet?

When a SCRAM is required, the defendant is usually responsible for picking up the cost. Installation might run anywhere from $50 to $100, and monthly monitoring fees can be up to $300 or more.

Are SCRAM Bracelets Required for 24/7 Sobriety Program Participants?

Many states have what are called "24/7 sobriety programs." Sobriety monitoring is the centerpiece of all 24/7 programs. However, programs use different methods to ensure participants are staying clean and sober. In some cases, it might be the judge who decides the specific type of monitoring. In other situations, the laws of the state might dictate how program participants are monitored.

Many 24/7 programs require participants to wear SCRAM bracelets. But SCRAM bracelets are not required across the board. Some programs use other testing methods such as breathalyzers, urine testing, and drug-test patches.

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