SCRAM Alcohol Ankle Monitoring Bracelets

How continuous alcohol monitoring systems work and when they’re required.

With over a million DUI (driving under the influence) arrests each year and no room in overcrowded jails, remote monitoring is becoming increasingly more common as a sentencing option in criminal cases. Secure continuous remote alcohol monitoring (SCRAM) devices—which detect alcohol consumption by the wearer—allow courts to ensure defendants stay sober without imposing jail time.

This article explains how these SCRAM bracelets work and what types of offenders might be required to wear them.

How Electronic Alcohol Ankle Monitoring Bracelets Work

Although quite small, SCRAM devices are capable of quite a lot. These devices have the ability to test for alcohol consumption, track location, and wirelessly communicate with the monitoring service.

What It's Like to Wear a SCRAM Bracelet

Although SCRAM bracelets test for alcohol consumption, they don't require the wearer to give any sort of blood or breath sample. Instead, the SCRAM is attached to a small bracelet which is then attached to the person's ankle. Most SCRAM devices are smaller and lighter than a cellphone.

To work properly, the bracelet must be in contact with the skin but can be concealed by socks, pants, or other clothing. SCRAM bracelets are generally waterproof, although complete submersion can limit wireless communications from the device.

How Ankle Monitors Detect Alcohol

When a person drinks alcohol, a small amount of the alcohol ends up exiting the body through skin pores. In other words, the person's sweat will contain a small amount of alcohol. And, even in the middle of winter, the human body continuously excretes small amounts of insensible perspiration.

SCRAM bracelets absorb and analyze the perspiration given off by the wearer. Using transdermal (through the skin) testing, the SCRAM device measures the amount of ethanol gas (alcohol) within the perspiration. Unlike a breathalyzer or blood test, transdermal testing generally can't give a specific blood alcohol concentration. Instead, this technology is designed to detect only the presence of alcohol.

Continuous Electronic Alcohol Monitoring and Reporting

About every 30 minutes, SCRAM devices perform a transdermal test and send a report to the monitoring agency. If the report shows the presence of alcohol, the agency will notify the appropriate court or law enforcement agency responsible for the supervision of the offender.

SCRAM Bracelets and Location Monitoring

Another key feature of SCRAM bracelets is global positioning system (GPS) tracking. Generally, SCRAM devices are equipped with GPS that monitors the wearer's location 24 hours a day. Depending on the situation, a SCRAM device might be set up to notify the monitoring agency if the wearer travels outside of a restricted location or travels during restricted hours. For example, an offender might be on house arrest and prohibited from leaving his or her residence or allowed to travel only during normal work hours.

Accuracy of Alcohol Monitoring Bracelets and Other Concerns

While the data that comes from SCRAM bracelets is generally accurate and admissible in courts, errors are possible. Using certain products, such as rubbing alcohol, might lead to a false positive. Also, some doctors have expressed concern about the use of SCRAM bracelets by those with certain medical conditions such as a history of strokes or heart defects.

Offenders Who Might be Required to Wear a SCRAM Bracelet

Some of the more common circumstances where an offender might be required to use a SCRAM bracelet include:

  • DUI cases. The most common usage of SCRAM bracelets is in DUI cases. Although SCRAM bracelets aren't generally mandated by any statute, a judge might opt to order the use of a SCRAM device as an alternative to imposing jail time.
  • Conditions of probation. In most DUI cases, the offender will be on probation for a period of time after serving any mandatory jail time. During this period, the offender must abide by the conditions of his or her probation. DUI probation conditions often include things like the requirement to obey all laws, completion of substance abuse treatment, and refraining from drug and alcohol use. To ensure compliance with a sobriety requirement of probation, the court might order the offender to submit to random testing or to wear a SCRAM bracelet. However, due to the high costs, judges typically order SCRAM bracelets only in cases involving more serious offenses or where the offender has a long history of substance abuse issues.
  • Alternative sentencing programs. Many jurisdictions have alternative sentencing programs for those facing DUI charges. With these programs, the driver agrees to abide by certain rules and complete program requirements, which usually include substance abuse treatment. In some circumstances, SCRAM monitoring might be one of the conditions for participants in these types of programs.

Although it's not very common, some offenders opt to voluntarily use a SCRAM bracelet. By doing so, offenders can prove to the judge that they're serious about staying sober and being proactive about rehabilitation.

How Much Do Offenders Have to Pay for SCRAM Bracelets

With all the benefits of SCRAM devices, one might wonder why judges don't order them in every case involving an alcohol-related offense. One of the reasons is cost. Unfortunately, it can cost $50 to $150 to attach a SCRAM and an additional $10 or so for every day of monitoring. It's typically the offender who has to pick up the tab.

SCRAM Violations and How Offenders Try to Trick These Devices

The technology used in SCRAM devices makes them very difficult to trick or circumvent. SCRAM bracelets can generally detect when someone is attempting to tamper with or obscure the reading. For example, placing a barrier between your skin and the device will result in an alert being sent to the monitoring agency. The device will also send an alert if the wearer attempts to remove the bracelet or completely submerges the bracelet for an extended time.

The consequences of SCRAM violations depend on the circumstances and the reason the SCRAM was ordered in the first place. For instance, an offender who's on house arrest and commits a SCRAM violation will likely be spending the remaining time of the sentence in jail. And, SCRAM violations committed by offenders on probation or alternative sentencing programs will normally result in termination of probation or from the alternative program.

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