Local News

SCRAM Device At Center Of Statewide Controversy

Posted November 22, 2005 9:23 a.m. EST

— In the ongoing struggle to keep drunken drivers off the roads, the makers of the Secure Continuous Alcohol Monitor, or SCRAM, saw a way to help and profit.

"We see an opportunity, we bring a solution," said Bruce Roberts, whose company markets the ankle bracelet, which tracks whether a convicted drunken driver consumes any alcohol during probation.

But state court leaders did not jump at the idea.

"To think that this is a 'cure all' because we're going to be able to monitor when someone drinks or not still doesn't stop them from getting behind the wheel of a car," said Gregg Stahl, of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Frustrated by bureaucracy, vendors, such as Roberts, started making sales pitches directly to local judges. A handful, like Orange County District Court Judge Joe Buckner, signed on.

"This gives me an ability to actually ensure (convicted drunken drivers) are not drinking," Buckner said.

Still, the sales tactic does not sit well with the Administrative Office of the Courts.

"We wish they would have started down a different pathway," Stahl said. "One where we worked as more of a partner."

Leaders worry SCRAM is unregulated. There are no statewide guidelines on use or how probation officers should deal with convicted drivers who drink again.

The courts also question whether a $75 installation and $12 a day fee for offenders is fair to the low income.

"The only opposition we seem to have had are those people who are more concerned about policy and regulations," Roberts said.

Ultimately, both sides agree that the dispute will be taken up by state lawmakers who will have to decide whether the entire court system buys into this kind of alcohol monitoring.

The SCRAM system is currently used in dozens of states. Judges in Durham, Orange, Edgecombe and Mecklenburg counties also utilize the alcohol monitors.