SCRAM Ankle Bracelet Measures Blood Alcohol 24/7

Device Also Detects Tampering Efforts

Alcohol Metabolism Chart
Transdermal Testing Explained. SCRAM Systems

More and more law enforcement and court agencies are beginning to use a new high-tech tool that helps them track the alcohol consumption of offenders, 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- particularly repeat drunk drivers.

The device, which works much like the ankle bracelets worn by offenders under house arrest, is called SCRAM -- Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor. It reads the blood alcohol content of the person wearing it every 30 minutes and reports those readings to supervising agencies.

Used to Monitor Offenders and Patients

The SCRAM is not only used by the judical system, but has also been utilized by alcohol treatment providers to monitor the alcohol consumption of patients. The SCRAM is used to help patients maintain compliance with abstinence-based programs and identify patients that need further intervention.

"This is the first offender or patient bracelet that tests (offenders) consistently," said Don White of SCRAM Systems, which manufactures the device. "We're able to test the molecules of ethanol that are coming off the ankle, because five percent of everything you drink comes out your body."

Closing the Testing Loopholes

The Alcohol Monitoring Systems website claims, "SCRAM provides accurate 24/7 monitoring of an offender's alcohol consumption. It catches tamper attempts that mask drinking events. It closes testing loopholes. If offenders drink or tamper, you'll know it.

If they don't, you'll know that, too. So you can focus on the offenders that truly need intervention."

Technology has advanced significantly since SCRAM first began offering alcohol monitoring systems to agencies in 1997. The company now offers two different devices - one that measures blood-alcohol content through the skin and another that provides remote breath testing to supervising agencies.

SCRAM Continuous Alcohol Monitoring

The device that tests alcohol consumption through the skin (transdermal testing) is called SCRAM CAM (continuous alcohol monitoring). The device is strapped around the offender's ankle and sends test results to the base unit located in the offender's home.

Originally, the base unit communicated the test results to the supervising agency through the offender's telephone landline. Now the base unit can use cell phone or Internet connections.

If the offender is sentenced to home confinement or is given a curfew, the SCRAM CAM can also monitor for compliance. The device eliminates the offender's ability to miss a test or drink around testing schedules.

SCRAM Remote Breath Alcohol Tester

SCRAM Systems also provides a one-piece, hand held cellular device that operates as a remote breath test. The device can be used by agencies to conduct random, scheduled or on-demand blood-alcohol concentration testing.

Because the SCRAM Remote Breath tester has many of the same features of a smartphone, compliance officers can send a text to the offender and demand and immediate breath test.

Facial Recognition, GPS Locator, Missed Tests

The device takes a photograph of the person has they blow into the machine, and uses Automated Facial Intelligence to make sure the person taking the test is the offender via facial recognition.

The remote breath tester also contains GPS technology which will record the GPS coordinates of the machine each time it conducts a test. If the offender misses a scheduled test, the machine records the GPS location at the time of the missed test.

According to the SCRAM System website, "SCRAM Remote Breath can store up to 48,000 test results when out of cell range and forward them automatically when service is reacquired. So no matter where clients are, Remote Breath ensures you receive ALL test data."

Most Early Problems Have Been Addressed

In the early years of its use, the SCRAM devices had some limitations and problems. Some of these problems included:

  • Being too sensitive and giving false positives
  • Devices could be removed without providing an alert
  • Would not detect some "low level" drinking events
  • Could report false tamper alerts

NHTSA Research Reports

These problems were noted in a series of studies of the alcohol monitoring devices funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The research was conducted by programs monitoring drunk drivers and other alcohol-involved offenders in Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Most of the studies reported that the manufacturer had made adjustment to address the problems in later versions of the SCRAM devices. The reported problems were greatly reduced or eliminated by the end of the research period.

Skeptical Court Officers Convinced

One of the problems reported with alcohol monitoring devices was the reluctance of probation officers and caseworkers to participate in the program because they did not believe they would work.

In the New York 8th Judicial District, they found that if they convinced the doubting agents to wear the devices and test them themselves, they soon became advocates for the program.

"Probation officers who are skeptical should be persuaded to wear the equipment and test it out themselves," the DWI court officials reported.

In almost all jurisdictions where the studies were conducted, the conclusion of the NHTSA researchers were that the alcohol monitoring program needed to be expanded and funding should be sought to do so.

Lowers Recidivism Rates, Monitoring Costs

Another NHTSA-funded study looked at the use of SCRAM and recidivism among drunk driving offenders and concluded that the device was effective in monitoring alcohol abstinence.

"SCRAM identifies all confirmed alcohol events and eliminates the need for probation or other court officers to conduct frequent and random in-home offender monitoring. This aspect of offender monitoring saves time and resources (manpower and fiscal) for other types of monitoring and probation efforts," the study reported.

The study also reported that offenders who remain abstinent while going through alcohol treatment programs had better outcomes compared to those who were not monitored and not abstinent.


McKnight, A. S., et al. "Transdermal alcohol monitoring: Case studies." (Report No. DOT HS 811 603). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2012, August).

Tison, J., et al. "Comparative study and evaluation of SCRAM use, recidivism rates, and characteristics." (Report No. DOT HS 812 143). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2015, April)

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