May 25, 2010

Ankle Bracelets Monitor Alcohol Consumption

Celebrities like Lindsay Lohan are being ordered by courts to wear alcohol-monitoring bracelets that test blood alcohol levels through perspiration on the skin.

The ankle bracelets are only sold to the courts, probation officers and others who want to make sure drunken drivers or anyone involved in alcohol-related offenses do not drink again.

A judged ordered the device to be put on Lohan's ankle on Monday after the actress did not show up for a hearing last week in Beverly Hills California, while attending the Cannes Film Festival in France instead.  This is her second time to wear the bracelet, and she is not the first celebrity to do so.

Rapper-actress Eve wore one and ex-basketball star Jayson Williams was forced to wear one earlier this year.

The gadgets work like electronic ankle bracelets that have been used for years to keep suspects or parolees in their homes.  The alcohol bracelets are able to do the same thing as well.

The device uses the same technology as a Breathalyzer, but instead of checking the breath for alcohol, it samples the perspiration on the skin.  Once alcohol is consumed, it eventually enters the bloodstream and a small amount is expelled through the skin. 

The bracelet tests for alcohol every half hour.  If there is alcohol, it causes a chemical reaction in the device's fuel cell.  The information is sent over phone lines to the company once a day, which then alerts the courts or probation officer if alcohol is detected at a blood-alcohol level of 0.02 or higher.

According to Brown, a 180-pound man would register a 0.02 if he has two 5-ounce drinks in less than an hour on an empty stomach.

The alcohol bracelets, known as SCRAMx for Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring, have been available since 2003 and are in use in every state except Hawaii.  Brown said 136,000 people for an average of 90 days have worn them.  She said that it costs about $1,500.

There are about 600 units in South Dakota and that state uses them in its 24/7 Sobriety Project, which requires daily monitoring for alcohol.

"Some people don't want to look at a deputy sheriff two times a day. It's a humbling experience," said South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, whose office successfully defended a court challenge of the device in South Dakota Supreme Court.

Jackley told the Associated Press that given a choice between the sobriety project or jail, "Most people will obviously chose to go back to their family, go back to their job, to go be a parent and work it out."

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said the SCRAMx is often used and is very effective.  He said that there are plenty of stories where people tried to disable the signal.

"I heard about someone who tried to put chicken skin between the signal and his skin, but it didn't work," Whitmore said.

Brown said there are sensors that check for tampering.

Stephen Bouchard, a judge in Missouri's Jefferson County near St. Louis, handles drunk driving cases, and he says that he is a fan of the bracelets.  They are often required of anyone released on bond, and defendants are charged $12 a day.

"You sure don't want to have the person on bond on an alcohol-related offense going out and getting drunk and hurting someone else. That pretty much stops that," Bouchard told AP.

He said the bracelets are used to also help control other alcohol-related offenses, like domestic violence.  On a few occasions, someone has asked to keep the bracelet longer than required.

"It's kind of like their security blanket. As long as they know they've got that SCRAMx monitor on, they feel more in control of their drinking," he said.

Defense attorney J. Michael Flanagan, who represents many DUI defendants in Los Angeles, said the problem with the device is that it is bulky and very uncomfortable.  Flanagan said one of his clients had the option of wearing the device or going to jail.  He said that days later the man complained that it was irritating his skin and was so uncomfortable he could not sleep.  He then took it off and went to jail.

The newest version of the bracelet is smaller, about the size of a deck of cards, and lighter than the first device.


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