At the recent National Association of Drug Court Professionals’ annual Training Institute in Nashville, Robert Murnock, Eastern Regional Manager Specializing in Offender Monitoring for BI Incorporated, spoke about alcohol monitoring programs to drug court and corrections professionals. Below are highlights of his presentation.
A 2004 survey of 1.2 million prisoners in state correctional facilities found that one-third had been using alcohol at the time of their offense. For the more than 207,000 violent crimes included in the survey, the percentage rose to 37%. Ensuring offenders stay sober while released to community supervision has many positive effects. A variety of technology helps criminal justice officials track alcohol consumption by parolees, probationers and pretrial defendants. This workshop was for agencies considering an alcohol monitoring program, with attendees learning about continuous alcohol monitoring, benefits of adding one of these programs, key considerations, and how to get started.
Because alcohol abuse is a contributing factor in hundreds of thousands of crimes committed in the U.S. each year, alcohol monitoring is an important tool to monitor sobriety. There are several ways to test for sobriety, including BrAC; urine tests; and continuous alcohol monitoring. Transdermal Alcohol Content (TAC) devices offer the continuous alcohol monitoring capability, which detects the 1-2% of alcohol that a body excretes through sweat. The BI TAD® system is a good example. Worn around the ankle, it rests directly on a clients’ skin and monitors moisture and vapor there. It detects and reports alcohol events over a 0.020 transdermal alcoholic threshold concentration. Information is fed to a receiver in the client’s home, which in turn is fed to a central monitoring computer.
An alcohol monitoring program can offer many benefits, including enhancing public safety; reducing jail overcrowding and its cost to the taxpayers; having offenders pay for their own treatment and monitoring, when possible; enhancing treatment efforts; and adding additional sanction or monitoring options to an overall supervision program.
Community corrections agencies that have successfully implemented an alcohol monitoring program have taken certain steps that paved the way for success. These steps include:
- Involving key stakeholders in the community
- Agreeing on the goals of an alcohol supervision program
- Determining who will manage the monitoring – in-house or vendor?
- Defining offender criteria/eligibility
- Establishing rules and procedures for alcohol monitoring
- Examining sample metrics
- Considering using a continuum of technology
- Monitoring metrics and adjusting as needed
Drug court staff, probation officers and other supervising entities typically are using limited means for detecting alcohol use and enforcing sobriety. Breathalyzers depend upon offender participation. Urinalysis also depends upon active offender participation and often requires a lab confirmation. Getting a blood sample is impractical for most supervision settings. CAM devices like BI TAD are superior as they provide accurate and near real time results. In fact, TAD provides continuous monitoring for alcohol events, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and testing is automatic, with no required scheduling and little offender participation needed. And, importantly, it is a court-validated technique.