Failing Economy, Alcohol Create Dangerous Holidays

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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With the deadliest holiday weekend of the year just around the corner and millions of Americans facing economic hardships, criminal courts across the country are gearing up for what could be record rates of alcohol abuse and crime this holiday season. Among the options that several thousand courts nationwide are using to tackle the issue: Continuous Alcohol Monitoring (CAM) programs that monitor offenders 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to ensure compliance with court-ordered sobriety.

Now monitoring nearly 9,000 offenders daily in 46 states, CAM programs include use of a high-tech ankle bracelet, worn around the clock, that actually sample an offender's perspiration every 30 minutes in order to measure for alcohol consumption. Known as SCRAM (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor), the technology is considered a key component of programs designed to shift the focus from sanctioning vehicles and warehousing repeat offenders in jails and prisons to monitoring and rehabilitating alcohol-addicted offenders. "Instead of just incarcerating the hard-core, repeat offenders, this type of technology helps us ensure sobriety, offers them a chance at a sober life and helps prevent additional DUI fatalities," says the Honorable Nancy Oesterle, a Las Vegas, Nevada, Justice Court Judge. Oesterle has used the SCRAM device extensively since 2005 in her DUI specialty court program.

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Alcohol, Crime and the Holidays

The Thanksgiving weekend is considered the deadliest holiday weekend of the year, surpassing even Independence Day, Memorial and Labor Day weekends for the number of alcohol-involved fatalities. Experts cite the combination of heavy traffic, long-distance trips and holiday drinking as the cause. In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that the period between Christmas and New Year's Day is the deadliest time of year for alcohol-related traffic deaths, with an astounding 40 percent of all traffic fatalities involving alcohol-impaired drivers. The average for the rest of the year is 28 percent.

Beyond drunk driving, domestic violence rates also rise exponentially during the holidays, with the combination of strained finances and increased alcohol consumption driving the epidemic. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 75 percent of all cases of domestic violence, the offender is drunk at the time of the offense. Tough economic times also historically spark increased rates of alcohol consumption. "It's the perfect storm for families and communities," says Mike Iiams, chairman and CEO of Denver-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS), which manufactures and markets the SCRAM System. "When you look at the population of repeat alcohol offenders, the commonality is that when these individuals drink, bad things happen," says Iiams. "But if you can monitor them 24/7 and ensure they're sober, and especially if you combine that with the treatment programs that focus on the addiction, then you can keep them from drinking and driving, or drinking and abusing a family member. It's that simple."

According to AMS, SCRAM has conducted 180 million alcohol tests on just under 80,000 offenders since it first became available to courts in April of 2003.

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