Cheaters, beware: SCRAM is here. ELMO recently introduced SCRAM (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring), a handheld, wireless breath alcohol testing unit that uses advanced facial recognition software to provide a more accurate way to track probationers who are court ordered to remain alcohol free.

Implemented last November, the new alcohol monitoring device, designed by 3M and SCRAM Systems, provides fast, accurate transmittal of alcohol related alerts to the Massachusetts Probation Service's 24-hour a day ELMO Center. SCRAM’s wireless and Ethernet connectivity offers more continuous network coverage than the former land-line based alcohol testing device.

ELMO monitors approximately 3,000 probationers on regular GPS devices; an additional 470 probationers have a SCRAM unit. ELMO, a branch of the Probation Field Services Division, serves in partnership with Probation Officers to supervise probationers throughout the state. 

How it works. Probationers using SCRAM are typically tested for alcohol a few times a day. Daily testing schedules, guided by court orders, are developed by Probation Officers. In addition to scheduled tests, SCRAM also allows for probationers to be tested on demand by Probation. 

Probation Officers have the ability to initiate random, on demand testing, a one-time request sent to the probationer via text message, through the ELMO Center. If the probationer doesn’t respond within 20 minutes, the SCRAM device will automatically turn on and prompt the client to take the test. SCRAM also sends automated “courtesy reminders” via text message to probationers up to a half-hour before their scheduled test times. 

Probation Officers supervise probationers on SCRAM following a judicial order. Probation Officers who use the system appreciate its real time access to accurate breath results, facial matching, and its ability to pinpoint GPS locations within six feet. Compared to the prior testing equipment, SCRAM units are wireless and portable, offering Probation Officers a more flexible and timely supervision tool to help increase public safety. Probationers can take the device with them and complete testing on the go.

“The system is working really well and our court has several probationers on it,” says Middlesex County Superior Court Chief Probation Officer Maureen McEachern. “The transition from the prior device to SCRAM has been very smooth. One of the big positives is that the device does not need a landline because it works via cell…it also uses facial recognition instead of voice like the old device. As a result, I am sure that there must be fewer cases brought before the court. Therefore, precious court time is not being taken up by issues related to GPS and breathalyzer testing.”

Westborough District Court has 22 probationers on SCRAM. Chief Probation Officer Sandra McNabb appreciates the flexibility SCRAM offers. “What’s great is people can travel with it,” says Chief McNabb. “If a business person is on probation and has to travel because of their job, SCRAM allows them to maintain employment and be productive, but at the same time assures that they are compliant and monitored.”

Chief McNabb has also noticed that defense attorneys are increasingly requesting SCRAM as part of their negotiations for bail, saying the system makes their arguments for release with conditions viable—and noncompliance much more difficult.

“This new system has really made lives easier,” she says, “Otherwise probationers would have to come in to the courthouse every morning to test – interrupting their lives and their jobs – not to mention, it often helped plan their drinking.”

Probationers deemed by a judge to be a flight risk are not good candidates for GPS or SCRAM, and some defense attorneys have raised privacy-related concerns about GPS. However, for appropriate candidates, GPS or SCRAM can be “a lifesaver,” says Mr. Pires, who has had many probationers tell him during home installations that the system keeps them accountable and away from alcohol, or provides proof that they are not violating a restraining order (209A).  

“We provide the missing link in covering the gaps in what Probation and the criminal justice system can't typically do without this type of technology,” says Mr. Pires. 

Mr. Pires described a recent theft in Worcester, which involved a probationer who cut his GPS bracelet. The ELMO team was quickly able to establish the offender’s trail and visits to the area based on past data collected from his GPS profile. The ELMO team then worked with law enforcement officials to determine the offender’s location, leading to his arrest.  

Next steps: Outreach and education. Probation staff will soon offer a state-wide SCRAM/GPS training and education program to judges and probation officers.

Strengths of GPS: GPS devices give the Trial Court an alternative to incarceration by tracking probationers without having to keep them in custody. GPS saves money and resources compared to incarceration, which costs around $145/day[1] compared to approximately $4.30/day for regular GPS tracking and $5.15/day for SCRAM. The new system also gives Probation Officers a powerful supervision tool that can help ensure probationers stay away from restricted areas and attend court ordered services, including treatment that helps them change their attitudes and behaviors that caused them to be involved in the court system.

Not a match? SCRAM’s government security grade facial recognition software relies on exception-based reporting to trigger an alert. An alert or “AFI Pending Review” typically occurs if the test taker has a poor quality enrollment photo or if they stand in direct sunlight or block part of their face by wearing a hat or sunglasses.


[1] Source: http://www.mass.gov/eopss/agencies/doc/faqs-about-the-doc.html as of 4/4/16. Estimated Dept. of Correction cost to house an inmate is $53,040.87 per year; statistic is for FY2014.