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Wayne County Sheriff Clamps Down On Drunk Drivers

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DETROIT (WWJ) - Wayne County Sheriff’s Department officials began tightening down on the area’s drunk drivers last October by integrating high-tech alcohol monitoring to keep tabs on the highest-risk offenders.

Eleven months later the program is one of the largest sheriff’s programs in the country with the highest percentage of compliant offenders of any agency program — and it’s reducing taxpayer costs by millions.

According to officials with Detroit-based House Arrest Services (HAS), a multi-state provider of electronic monitoring services that helps Wayne County administer the program, 85 percent of the 485 DUI offenders monitored by the department to-date have been fully compliant. The average compliance rate nationwide is 77 percent.

“That means 85 percent of these DUI offenders are sober, compliant, in the community and employed,” Jon Ugval, director of operations for HAS, said in a release.

The Wayne County Sheriff began using an alcohol testing system known as SCRAMx late last year. The system includes an anklet, worn 24/7, that tests your perspiration every 30 minutes to see if you’ve been drinking. The system also provides home detention (or house arrest) monitoring, ensuring DUI offenders follow strict curfew schedules established by the court or sheriff.

The majority of the Wayne County offenders on the program have been monitored for both alcohol and house arrest.

The cost of the monitoring averages $8 a day. To compare, The Center for Economic and Policy Research reports that the average daily cost to incarcerate an offender in a county jail is $71.23.

“In less than a year this program, which monitored 485 offenders, has saved more than $2.3 million in incarceration costs,” John Hennessey, vice president of Strategic Accounts for Alcohol Monitoring Systems, which manufactures and markets the SCRAMx technology, said in a release.

The current alcohol monitoring protocol is a tougher sanction than the previous alcohol program, which utilized a home-based alcohol testing system that required offenders to blow into a breath test machine set up at home one or more times a day.

“Wearing the actual bracelet, which tests you 48 times a day, serves as a reminder that you’re going to get caught if you drink,” said Ugval.

According to Hennessey, Wayne County’s compliance rate is commendable, particularly for programs that are monitoring higher-risk, felony level offenders. As for the remaining 15 percent who do violate the terms of their release by drinking or tampering with the unit?

“When we’ve got a violation it’s a confirmed violation. Authorities have a confirmation that will stand up in court,” said Ugval.

There were 157 alcohol-related driving fatalities in Wayne County in 2010, the highest number of any county in Michigan. In August Wayne County Commissions defeated a public safety millage that was slated to appear on the November ballot, leaving officials tasked with finding more ways to stretch the county’s limited criminal justice dollars.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, someone is killed every 51 minutes in an alcohol-related traffic accident. But Michigan, along with the rest of the U.S., has seen a steady decline in alcohol-related fatalities over the last several years.

In 2009, 28 percent of all traffic fatalities were alcohol-related. In 2010 that dropped to 24 percent, well below the national average of 31 percent. In October 2010, Michigan enacted the “Super Drunk” law, aimed at targeting first-time drunk drivers arrested with high BACs, presumably because they represent a higher risk of repeat offenses down the road.

The state of Michigan was the first in the U.S. to utilize the SCRAMx System. The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) conducted BETA testing of the system in 2002 and 2003 before it launched officially to the market in April of 2003.

Today MDOC, is the largest state-level SCRAMx program, accounting for 1,250 of the nearly 2,000 offenders monitored every day throughout the state. To-date 30,011 DUI and other alcohol-involved offenders have been monitored with SCRAMx in Michigan. Nationwide, the technology has monitored 246,000 offenders in 48 states.

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