SCRAM Bracelets: Cost and Effectiveness

Courts often order alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelets in DUI and other cases involving drugs and alcohol.

By , Attorney · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated 11/05/2020

Alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelets (also called SCRAM bracelets for "Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring") provide a way for courts to keep tabs on offenders who aren't supposed to be drinking alcohol. Though most commonly used in cases where the defendant was convicted of driving under the influence (DUI), courts also order SCRAM ankle bracelets in other types of cases involving drug and alcohol use.

Court-Ordered Alcohol Monitoring

In addition to DUI cases, courts also sometimes order these alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelets in other types of cases where alcohol use appears to be problematic. For example, a judge might order a SCRAM bracelet for parents in family court, domestic violence cases, underage drinking cases, and cases involving charges related to substance abuse.

In criminal cases, the court orders the defendant to wear the bracelet for a set period of time, often 60 or 90 days. But in some cases, the offender must wear a SCRAM monitor for a year or longer as a term of probation or parole.

Offenders who are required to use SCRAM bracelets must wear them 24/7. SCRAM devices are designed not only to detect alcohol but also any kind of tampering with the bracelet itself. So, if an offender attempts to remove a SCRAM bracelet, the company that monitors the device will receive notice. The company then reports the tampering to the court or the probation department. Tampering with a SCRAM bracelet will normally lead to severe consequences for the offender such as termination of probation, jail time, and the like.

How Do SCRAM Ankle Monitors Work?

SCRAM bracelets work by monitoring the wearer's perspiration every 30 minutes. When a person drinks alcohol, a certain amount will be metabolized and emitted as sweat through skin pores. SCRAM devices detect the presence of alcohol at the surface of a person's skin in the area where the device is located (the ankle).

Measurement results from the SCRAM are uploaded via modem and monitored by the private company. If the defendant tests positive for alcohol, the company reports it to the court.

Courts report that most defendants successfully complete alcohol monitoring without incident. Studies have shown that wearing a SCRAM bracelet for at least 90 days, when coupled with alcohol treatment, can reduce the risk that a person convicted of driving under the influence will re-offend.

Are SCRAM Bracelets Accurate?

Generally, courts have decided that SCRAM bracelets are scientifically sound and that evidence of alcohol consumption and tampering are reliable enough to be admitted into court proceedings. So, a defendant would probably have to have specific evidence that the device was malfunctioning in order to successfully challenge SCRAM results.

House Arrest and SCRAM Bracelets

SCRAM bracelets are often equipped with GPS locators and used for offenders who are placed on house arrest. The GPS feature of these bracelets allows courts and probation departments to monitor the offender's location and ensure he or she doesn't violate the terms of house arrest.

Civil Rights

Although a defendant could try to argue that SCRAM is an invasion of privacy, alcohol monitoring is usually imposed as a condition of probation or parole and, therefore, as an alternative to incarceration. So, it would be difficult to claim that alcohol monitoring is a greater civil liberties violation than jail or prison. However, courts generally can't order alcohol monitoring without evidence that the person has some sort of drinking problem or that drinking led to the person's criminal conduct.

How Much Do SCRAM Bracelets Cost?

Alcohol monitoring can be pricey. Usually, defendants are charged a one-time installation fee ($50 to $100) and a daily monitoring fee (around $10 to $15), so monthly costs after installation can be as high as $450 or more.

A Word on Legal Assistance

If you are ordered to wear a SCRAM bracelet as a condition of parole or probation, you should talk to a local criminal defense attorney about your case. An attorney can explain the legal risks and benefits of alcohol monitoring. If you are charged with a SCRAM violation, you need an attorney who understands how the technology works and how to challenge SCRAM evidence in court. Whenever you are charged with a criminal offense, the best defense is to consult an experienced attorney about the matter.

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