Ankle bracelet can detect use of alcohol

URBANA – If Jamar Smith drinks a beer in the next six months, his probation officer will know about it via an ankle bracelet monitoring system.

Smith, a former University of Illinois basketball player, was ordered Wednesday to wear the ankle bracelet as part of a new sentence to 18 months additional probation.

The system involves a monitor on the ankle bracelet that can be programmed to detect alcohol.

Mike Carey, a Champaign County probation officer, said Smith's case will be the first in the county for something other than drug monitoring. The county's drug court has been using the ankle bracelets in some cases since January, he said.

The monitor measures alcohol content in a body by sucking air from the skin of the ankle every 30 minutes 24 hours a day, Carey said. The system also measures body temperature and voltage levels on the bracelet itself, as a way to detect any attempts to tamper with it, he said.

Carey said he checks data daily from the alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet company, Alcohol Monitoring Systems. The bracelet itself is called a SCRAM – secure continuous remote alcohol monitor.

Lindsay Lohan is among those celebrities who have worn alcohol monitor bracelets.

For about five years, Champaign County has also been using electronic monitoring to check the whereabouts of some people on probation with a global positioning system bracelet, according to Carey.

"This is an alternative to incarceration," Carey said. "The judges like it. The sheriff likes it."

Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz said ankle bracelets have been used in drug court in a limited way.

The most logical use of the alcohol monitoring bracelets would be in drunken driving cases, but they also could be useful in some domestic violence cases where alcoholism is a factor, Rietz said.

Carey said there are some cases where a judge wants to sentence a person to jail, but electronic monitoring can be a good alternative.

"They are really better off," Carey said. "I keep you drinking by putting you in jail for six months or I can put an ankle bracelet on you for six months and put you into the community with electronic monitoring.

"This is an accountability device," Carey said. "Their accountability is with them at all times – 24/7. We've caught people drinking on this."

One female probationer tried to foil the system by stuffing a rag between her ankle and the monitor, Carey said. The data showed drops in her body temperature and the bracelet voltage, he said. It also showed a spike in alcohol level, although not as high as it would have been without the rag.

Carey said the costs of the program are borne by the probationer on a sliding scale, generally from $5 to $20 a day, based on ability to pay.

"The SCRAM people deal with the probationer," he said. "The cost of the bracelet is included in their fees. They pay SCRAM directly."

If a probationer does not pay the company, the company will remove the bracelet, which will put the probationer in violation of the court order to wear it for a specified time.

The monitor on the bracelet is water-resistant but not waterproof, according to Carey.

"You can shower, but not take a bath," he said.

Robert Murnock, Midwest regional manager for Alcohol Monitoring Systems, said the ankle bracelet tests only for alcohol, not other drugs.

"It's a continuous alcohol monitoring system that aids in community safety and offender accountability," he said.

The national rate of compliance for the alcohol monitoring bracelets is 70 percent with no violations, Murnock said. Very few who do violate the alcohol bans have subsequent violations, he said.

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