By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Some North Carolina lawmakers want to see more defendants wearing alcohol monitoring anklets instead of jail jumpsuits and are promoting a bill that would broaden judges’ leeway in ordering the wardrobe adjustment.
House Bill 494 — Continuous Alcohol Monitoring Law Changes — would allow the use of the CAM systems as a condition of probation, to meet the requirements for the restoration of a revoked driver’s license, to mitigate punishments for impaired driving offenses and to ensure compliance with child custody and visitation orders. The House Judiciary B Subcommittee recommended the bill this week, sending the measure on to the Finance Committee.
“This bill is really another tool for us to be able to reduce prison and jail costs,” explained Rep. Martha Alexander (D-Mecklenburg), adding that it has the support of the N.C. Sheriff’s Association as well as the Department of Corrections.
Rep. David Guice (R-Henderson) said the measure would help those in the field to direct defendants toward treatment.
“We all know from looking at North Carolina data that what we’ve been doing … is locking a lot of folks up and spinning them out without any supervision at all. And then they’re coming right back in the front door of the system, quickly,” said Guice, who is a retired chief probation/parole officer.
Already, the CAM devices — anklets that detect traces of alcohol in a person’s perspiration and transmit data via modem to a server accessible via the Web — are a part of North Carolina’s DWI sentencing laws. But current statutes limit the orders that judges can issue to 60 days and the total monitoring fee to be paid by the defendant to $1,000.
H 494 would remove those two limits and allow judges in Level One DWI cases to order continuous alcohol monitoring for up to 120 days; Level Two, 90 days; and so forth. Judges for any level of DWI could order abstinence from alcohol and use of the CAM anklets. They could also be put to use in probation cases in which probation officers suspect their clients are not staying sober or in civil cases involving custody or visitation.
Those in the CAM industry charge roughly $75 to install one of the bracelets and $12/day for monitoring.
“Twelve dollars is about the cost of four beers, so you can put it in that light,” said Rep. John Faircloth (R-Guilford).
While the fiscal estimates supplied by Legislative staff showed the bill could cost the state roughly $1 million a year, primarily in additional court personnel if the devices lead to more probation violations, many on the committee believe it could save much more by reducing the number of prison inmates since incarceration costs some $28,000 per year per person.
“We support this technology because we believe it will help protect the public from drunken drivers, since it targets the heart of why many defendants who commit crimes in the first place,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “With the CAM, even though we can’t prevent that person from starting to drink, authorities can know very shortly what is going on and take action to dry the individual out and keep him or her from getting behind the wheel.”
The waterproof and tamper resistant CAM anklets are worn all the time and perform some 48 alcohol tests per day.