DUI anklet could free up pricey prison space

DUI offenders required to wear an electronic anklet that monitors their alcohol use are considerably less likely to be arrested for another DUI than offenders who do not, according to a recent report by a company that helps counties track the devices.

Yet the company’s president says Bay Area judges too rarely administer the tool, especially judges in San Mateo County, which has the Bay Area’s most overcrowded jails.

“It’s just crazy,” said Linda Connelly, president of Leaders in Community Alternatives in San Francisco. “DUI and hardcore drunk drivers are filling our jails. If we are able to use these tools for people and keep them clean and sober in their home and in the community, the odds of them getting out of the criminal justice system are improved.”

Worn 24/7 by DUI offenders deemed eligible for the program by a judge, the SCRAM device measures alcohol released through the skin. Every 30 minutes, the data are relayed by modem from the wearer’s home to Leaders in Community Alternatives, which investigates alcohol spikes or device tampering and reports its findings to county officials.

SCRAM is typically used in conjunction with Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or outpatient treatment.

“Being on SCRAM allowed me the opportunity to get into the rhythm of sobriety and abstinence again,” said Orlando Perez, who was arrested in San Mateo County last year for his third DUI after falling off the wagon in 2006.

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Richard Livermore said that while he has been requiring SCRAM for years in his sentences, he wouldn’t increase its usage unless cases warranted it.

“Only in instances where you tell someone they must totally abstain from alcohol is where it may make sense,” Livermore said.

After all, he noted, the point of DUI sentencing is not to keep people from drinking, but rather to keep people who have had too much to drink off the road.

Stuart Forrest, chief probation officer for San Mateo County, said he is wary about claims that the device can work wonders.

Much of the county’s substance-abuse criminals use multiple drugs and require more comprehensive testing than SCRAM provides, Forrest said, adding that the county is more likely to rely on outpatient and residential treatments than the device.

Yet other people familiar with the technology say it is sorely underused.

Bill Kitchell, former president of MADD Riverside County chapter, said the average DUI offender drives drunk 26 times before they are caught.

“Wearing a monitor for six months or a year is better than somebody dying or being crippled for life or going to jail for 15 months of manslaughter. It’s the lesser of evils,” he said, adding that he’d like the county to mandate the device for repeat DUI offenders.

Alcohol busts

DUI is a big factor in local incarcerations. About one-sixth of all incarceration in San Mateo County are DUIs.

2009
Total bookings: 17,123
DUI bookings: 2,884

2010
Total bookings: 16,306
DUI bookings: 2,813

nkyriakou@sfexaminer.com

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