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Bracelet monitors offenders' alcohol intake

Like a protective Big Brother, Northwest Kansas Community Corrections has an arsenal of gadgets it uses to monitor the behavior of the inmates it oversees.

One of the most promising up-and-coming devices being used is the Scram alcohol monitoring bracelet.

Worn on the ankle, the bracelet uses samples of insensible perspiration through the skin to track if and how much alcohol has been consumed by an offender.

Made by Alcohol Monitoring Systems, the bracelet takes a reading every 30 minutes and transmits that data to an AMS modem where data can be retrieved by Community Corrections. The device also is equipped with anti-tamper technology that reports to the modem if an attempt is made to damage or remove the bracelet.

The instrument is so sensitive, Community Corrections Director John Trembley said, that offenders who kiss or sit in close proximity to someone who has been drinking will register trace amounts of alcohol.

Trembley said his office has supervised many offenders who have been arrested for driving under the influence, and even some who have had as many as eight to 10 DUIs.

These offenders are considered by Trembley as some of the scariest people he oversees.

“My worst nightmare,” he said, “is to get a phone call at 2 o’clock in the morning to find out that one of my parole or corrections offenders that was on for DUIs had killed a 16-year-old girl coming home.”

It was that concern, he said, that drove him to look for a method of accurately tracking offender alcohol consumption and prevent disastrous situations.

Trembley said he often is asked by members of the community how DUI offenders get their licenses back after having them revoked.

“They don’t have a license,” he said he tells them. “If you’ve had that many DUIs, you don’t care that you don’t have a license.”

Trembley said that since instituting the devices in November, 13 offenders have been monitored through Scram, with 11 offenders registering no signs of having had a drink during their minimum 90-day monitoring period.

Those two who were found to have slipped, he said, were home at the time and were “well below the legal limit to drive.”

Judges in Ellis County take DUIs seriously, Trembley said, and take a zero-tolerance stance on offenders who have been caught drinking, not hesitating to revoke their bond and send them back to jail.

Tracking offenders’ actions is but one option for Community Corrections. With the help of global positioning devices, the office can monitor an offender’s movements as well.

Primarily used on sex offenders or those who have committed a crime against a specific victim and must maintain a certain distance, the Global Positioning System bracelets collect data 24 hours a day.

Trembley said electronic monitoring devices similar to GPS also are used. These EMDs monitor if an offender is in a specific place, like his or her home, at a specific time, instituting an electronic curfew.

Not only are they extremely helpful in curbing unwanted offender behavior, the devices have a secondary benefit of saving the city and county governments and taxpayers money.

Trembley said it costs $45 per day to house an offender in jail, whereas offenders who are assigned to community corrections are able to reside in the community and pay for their use of the devices.

The Scram bracelets cost an offender $15 per day, while GPS is a $12 per day charge, and EMD monitoring comes at a price of $10 per day.

The Community Corrections office supervises 22 offenders. After a month of not being housed in jail, Trembley said those offenders would result in a cost savings of about $30,000, or more than $350,000 after a year.

“It’s been a success story for our taxpayers,” Trembley said.

And with a commonly seen problem of densely populated prisons and jails, the ability to keep tabs on offenders outside of their confinement means jailers do not have to worry about the possible added expense of paying to house offenders in another city, county or state.

Sheriff Ed Harbin said the Ellis County jail is at maximum occupancy, and at one point had several offenders serving time out-of-county, at a cost of about $13,000 per month. All are back now, which is a direct effect of Community Corrections’s taking on the responsibility of accepting more offenders.

“Anything we can do to help the community, I feel an obligation to do,” Trembley said.

So far, he said, the results have been encouraging.

“That’s why these courts have been able to have confidence in us to provide the type of supervision that they expect,” he said.

source: Hays Daily News

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