Which alcohol monitoring device is right for your case?

For family law cases where concern has been expressed about a parent’s alcohol use being excessive, whether that is admitted or disputed, we have two technologies that can help the parties move forward constructively. This document explains how each technology works and suggests some considerations that may help the parties decide which technology will work best for them.

The SCRAM ankle bracelet tests the wearer’s perspiration vapour every 30 minutes for the presence of alcohol. The science is well established and the SCRAM bracelet is widely used and accepted by courts throughout the USA and the UK in both criminal and family law matters. The number of cases in Canada is still small, but the agencies, parents and courts who have used it have found it very helpful. The tests are stored in the bracelet and uploaded to the monitoring software once per day. That upload is accomplished by way of a base station (modem) that can be connected to either a land line phone jack or internet router in the wearer’s home. If they don’t have a landline or internet, we can also accomplish the upload via the cellular data system for a small additional cost. We review the monitoring software daily for any alerts that alcohol consumption or tampering has been detected. We follow agreed upon protocols for providing reports to the other parent. The great advantage of the SCRAM bracelet for both parties is that it produces 48 test results per day, so the concerned parent can be assured that if drinking is a problem it will be detected and the parent being tested can be assured that if there is not a problem, they will be able to establish that quite convincingly. The frequency of testing also means that the timing and relative quantity of any alcohol consumption events will be thoroughly documented from beginning to end, meaning that moderate drinking can be clearly distinguished from excessive drinking.

The second technology is remote breath testing. This device works just like a roadside breath testing device, but also has a camera that takes a photograph of the subject as they provide the breath sample and communications technology that instantly uploads the test result and the photo to the monitoring software. Scheduled test times can be programmed into the system and/or the testing parent can do self-initiated tests at any time. The parties agree on a testing schedule, which might include anywhere from 2 to 6 tests per day, either every day or before and during parenting time. We can set this system up to deliver daily reports to each parent by email. We can also program the system to deliver notifications by email and/or text message to each parent if a test is positive or if a scheduled test is missed. These notifications are initiated by the device instantly, however we caution that the notifications can be delayed due to cellular connectivity issues or other technical delays, so we do not recommend assuming that all notifications will be immediate when structuring the arrangement.

The main advantages of the remote breath testing are the fact that it is less expensive and does not involve wearing an ankle bracelet. These advantages must be weighed against the more thorough testing record produced by the SCRAM bracelet. For example, if a breath test registers .05 at 8 pm and the previous test was at noon, there is no way to know the start time or peak level reached prior to the .05 test, which is information that would be available with the SCRAM bracelet. (When a breath test is positive, further tests are required every 30 minutes until the level returns to 0 so that information will be available but the overall event will still not be completely documented as it would be with the SCRAM bracelet.)

A common arrangement is to start with the SCRAM bracelet and then after a period of time with satisfactory results (commonly 3-6 months) switch to the remote breath testing.

We can get the monitoring up and running very quickly, typically within a day or two.

If you decide to go ahead, we recommend that you consult with us before finalizing the testing schedule, reporting arrangements, and any defined consequences for missed and positive tests so we can provide suggestions and make sure that the plan is workable and that everyone’s expectations are realistic.