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Making Sure Ex-Abusers are Sober Taking the Kids
The company behind an alcohol monitoring bracelet explains why their tool is effective, yet underused, in DV cases
- Jan 30, 2017
Domestic abuse can’t be blamed on alcohol, agree most experts, but many survivors will attest to the fact that drinking certainly exasperates abusive behavior.
After leaving an abusive partner, survivors who share children with their abuser may worry their ex will be under the influence when they see their children, if a court orders a shared custody arrangement.
Luckily, the same companies that developed tracking bracelets for criminals have adapted the technology to also monitor an individual’s alcohol intake, bringing survivors some peace of mind before they hand over their children to their ex.
Created by the Denver-based SCRAM Systems, SCRAM Continuous Alcohol Monitors are attached to the ankle and are unable to be removed. The device tests the wearer every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day, for alcohol consumption. It works by reading the perpetrator’s perspiration, similar to the way a breathalyzer measures alcohol content.
The data is then sent wirelessly to a base station at the person’s residence that then transfers that information back to the company, who sends it to a reporting authority, such as the court or district attorney’s office, or the individual’s probation officer, if they have one.
Aaron Fleisher is the president of SCRAM of California, a partner of SCRAM Systems. Fleisher says the monitors have been used in child custody cases where domestic violence is present, typically because the judge orders it, but sometimes, because the abuser volunteers for it.
“They know that alcohol was a contributing factor to their case. They can elect to enroll in SCRAM proactively to try and show the court that they’re not drinking.” Often the cost of the SCRAM bracelet is paid for by the perpetrator, and is typically around $15 a day for monitoring, plus an installation fee of around $100.
Fleisher says survivors can also ask their attorneys to bring up SCRAM in court if drinking is an issue they’re worried about, and it can be combined with other types of treatment or punishment.
“Courts want these underlying power and control issues to be addressed,” says Fleisher. “So if perpetrators show up intoxicated to batterer treatment or education, what are they really getting out of that course? When sentenced, sobriety monitoring could be a term of probation; they could be ordered to wear it for three or six months, for instance.”
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The only crux is that the system is passively reporting. In other words, explains Fleisher, “Tomorrow, we’ll know who was drinking today.” The goal is not so much to catch someone in the act of being drunk, but rather to reinforce a long-term behavioral change, such as for someone ordered by a judge to not consume any alcohol at any time of the day.
There is also a remote breathalyzer that captures an instantaneous and real-time report of someone’s blood alcohol level. Called the SCRAM Remote Breath, it offers face recognition technology to ensure the tester is, indeed, the client ordered to take the test, as well as the person’s exact GPS location of where they were when they took, or missed, the test. This is typically used for lower-risk offenders because, explains Fleisher, “someone could drink around those testings, which is the benefit of the continuous monitoring. It’s always going to catch them drinking.”
In addition, the company also offers continuous drug monitoring in the form of a patch that is worn for two weeks before being removed and sent to the a lab for testing, which is typically used in conjunction with the alcohol monitoring bracelet.
Why Courts Are Wary
The company not only sells the devices, but also actively advocates for their use. Says Fleisher, “Sobriety monitoring is one of the most underused tools in domestic violence cases. Most of what we do is around the DUI offender population, but these cases often branch off to other substance abuse-related crimes, like domestic and family violence, and elder abuse.”
He says a team of people meet with local courts, city attorneys and domestic violence advocates to promote sobriety monitoring, but they face opposition, based mostly on a lack of financial and human resources to respond to infractions.
“Domestic violence holds so much liability in the court system’s eyes. They might be tracking someone 24/7, but what if something happens? Now, they have to do something with that information.”
Fighting for custody of your children against your abuser can be an emotionally draining battle. Find tips from a mom who's been there in "Protecting Your Children in the Court System."
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