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September 15, 2009

The technical challenges posed by technocorrections

I just discovered this local article out of Florida last week, which is headlined "Judge: Hairspray falsely triggered alcohol-monitoring device." For fans of technocorrections, this story is a bit sobering:

A 17-year-old girl’s alcohol-monitoring device was triggered by continued exposure to hairspray, not consumption to alcohol, a judge ruled Thursday. “Based on the evidentiary hearing today, the court would find that it appears that the detection made by (the alcohol-monitoring device) was a false positive and so, based upon that, I’m not going to revoke her pre-trial release,” Walton County Circuit Judge Kelvin Wells said.

Elyse Tirico, formerly Elyse Bushee, is charged with DUI manslaughter and DUI with serious bodily injury in connection with a Jan. 4 accident that killed 16-year-old Meghan Burkhart-Smith, a fellow student at South Walton High School. Her trial originally was scheduled to begin on Monday but has been continued to Jan. 11, 2010.... Tirico has been wearing the anklet since late March under a court order.

Jeff Hawthorne, who is the co-founder of Alcohol Monitoring Systems Inc. and who invented the SCRAM (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor) anklet, testified at the hearing. He said SCRAM detects blood-alcohol levels through perspiration. The device takes readings every 30 minutes, Hawthorne said. It issued an alert July 15 after three separate readings showed that Tirico’s blood-alcohol level was above .02.

But under questioning by defense attorney Clay Adkinson, Hawthorne said an alert could have been issued even if Tirico had not consumed alcohol. He said wearers of the device are given a list of so-called “banned products” that contain alcohol — including certain toiletries, perfumes and cleaning supplies — in order to avoid false alerts. When Adkinson asked whether continual exposure to hair spray might trigger an alert, Hawthorne said it might.

The detection device showed that alcohol was in Tirico’s system from 9:38 a.m. to 6:48 p.m. July 15, but Hawthorne said he had no way of knowing where Tirico was during those hours.  Tirico works as a receptionist at a hair salon in Miramar Beach. Adkinson said that the alert was triggered by hairspray, which she was exposed to July 15.  He also presented several affidavits from people who said they were with her early that day and that she did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol.

Interestingly, the private company that produce the alcohol-monitoring device has this new press release concerning this case, which includes these statements:

The manufacturer of SCRAM alcohol bracelets is countering reports that their alcohol-sensing ankle bracelets falsely confirmed a drinking event because of exposure to hairspray for a Florida defendant out on bond for a DUI manslaughter and DUI with serious bodily injury case. The bracelets, worn 24/7, sample an offender's perspiration every 30 minutes in order to measure for alcohol consumption.

According to Colorado-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS), the confusion is based on the difference between an "alert" generated by a product like hairspray and an actual confirmed drinking event. The company reports that due to procedural issues at the hearing, the judge did not hear evidence to explain the difference between an environmental exposure to hairspray and actual consumption, resulting in confusion in the ruling and reports about the case. Notably, Judge Kevin Wells ordered the defendant to continue wearing the SCRAM Bracelet.

AMS President and CEO Mike Iiams says that alcohol-containing products like hairspray will oftentimes generate an alert, but that the SCRAM System can easily distinguish between exposure to environmental alcohol and actual consumption....

Launched to the corrections market in 2003, SCRAM has monitored 110,000 offenders in 47 states and more than 1,900 jurisdictions. AMS is the only electronic monitoring company in the criminal justice system to provide in-depth court support and expert testimony.

September 15, 2009 at 03:11 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Why couldn't the company say alcohol consumption was confirmed by the device? At $15 per day, and if there were the 105,000 monitored in one day (though that is since 2003) that would be $2,250,000.00 per day, times 365 = $821,250,000.00 per year. This company would be a fool not to be a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council and get selfish laws for itself passed. Punishment for profit. While alternatives like this may be good alternatives, is punishment for profit American? Maybe eminent domain is in order for these kinds of companies if for no other reason than to limit their lobbying for laws strictly for profit.

Posted by: George | Sep 15, 2009 3:58:19 PM

AMS can't comment on any specific information or results for any individual SCRAM client. However, rest assured AMS would not send an expert witness to a hearing unless there was a confirmed event. SCRAM has monitored 110,000 offenders since it launched in 2003. They monitor just under 10,000 individual clients each day.

Posted by: Kathleen Brown | Sep 15, 2009 6:56:59 PM

That might be true if they also didn't have to cover an insane amount of overheads. They are an amazing company that most certainly is not criminal justice profiteering. I wore the bracelet as an alternative to prison and it kept me sober for 6 months. To this day after three years I'm still sober. If I went to prison, which are all insanely overcrowded mind you, after I got out I would just start drinking again. This will be the standard, not the alternative.

Posted by: John Graves | Sep 18, 2009 6:11:37 PM

The SCRAM expert witnesses? For real? Experts? I think the courts should do more research into this for profit company because here within lies the problem. If a diabetic is ordered to wear the device, they just signed their own jail-sentencing. Diabetics should not be required to wear the SCRAM because their body produces alchohol which the device DOES interpret as ethanol. Anyone in drug court who is relying upon this so-called expert witness, then they need to file a Daubert Motion and challenge them under the methodology of the Daubert criteria. What a big joke. Plus, diabetics who have to give UA's can test positive for opiates, ectasy, etc. without even touching the stuff. The courts need educated on this or just turn their robe over to a 5 year old who could do the job in the same manner....u-n-e-d-u-c-a-t-e-d!!!

Posted by: Debbi | Jan 27, 2011 3:12:17 AM

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