SCRAM: the ‘must-have’ accessory for boozy celebs
If the courts can now slap an alcohol-monitoring device on Lindsay Lohan, why not monitor everyone’s bad habits?
Whilst once paparazzi would trip over each other to get the first shot of celebrities’ latest tattoos, haircuts or flings, the latest essential snap is of stars wearing bulky alcohol-monitoring anklets, so-called Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitors (SCRAMs). Actress Lindsay Lohan is the latest to generate a tabloid frenzy, finally taking off her boot-cut jeans to reveal her twenty-first century ball-and-chain.
However, unlike the latest Jimmy Choo stilettos or Louis Vuitton handbag, SCRAMs are a ‘must-have’ in a far more literal sense: they are mandatory for those undergoing ‘sobriety programmes’ in 48 states across the US. And far from being sported by the rich and famous only, SCRAMs have monitored the sobriety of over 124,000 individuals since their launch in 2003.
The device, which rapper Eve Jeffers has said feels like ‘a pair of Bose headphones’ around your ankle, continually monitors perspiration from the skin for alcohol content. It is permanently strapped to the ankle of the individual for the duration of his or her punishment, which can range from weeks to indefinite periods.
The anklet takes in-depth readings every half-an-hour and then snitches once a day, through a specially designed modem, to a monitoring agency that will scramble the relevant authorities to chastise, threaten or even imprison those who try to break their enforced prohibition and sneak a drink. Whilst the web is littered with strategies about how to ‘scam the SCRAM’, from wrapping cling film to luncheon meat around your ankle, the devices are notoriously hard to fool and those tampering with the monitor could face jail time.
Even supposed ‘accidents’ aren’t treated with any leniency: despite claiming she’d spilt a drink down her leg, Lindsay Lohan’s bail was doubled to $200,000 earlier this month after her SCRAM anklet reported that she’d failed to stay sober at the MTV Movie Awards.
The anklets are the brainchild of Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS), a company that claims to be on a moral mission to develop ‘innovative’ solutions to drunkeness ever since the close friend of one of AMS’s founders got killed by a drunk driver. As Don White, chief operating officer of AMS, puts it: ‘Prior to SCRAM courts really had no way to tell what the offenders were drinking. The random testing methods that were in place were good for a point in time, but it didn’t really deal with the root cause and that was to get the offender to stop drinking. Because SCRAM tests every half hour we can tell around the clock whether the offender is drinking… it provides a new level of accountability at the offender level.’
To date the vast majority of anklets have been slapped onto those, such as Lohan, who have been caught drink-driving. AMS argues that this is a more cost-effective punishment than imprisonment and that it removes the stigma attached to serving a jail sentence. AMS claims that over 70 per cent of individuals fitted with a SCRAM anklet successfully ‘graduate’ from the programme without violating the terms of their probation.
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So why simply stop with offenders? Courts are now finding new uses for the device, with family courts beginning to utilise them to monitor the drinking habits of parents. This approach is being pioneered by Kathryn Foster, a judge in Wisconsin’s Waukesha County, who has undertaken a test case where a father volunteered to wear a SCRAM anklet for a month to ‘get to the truth of claims that one parent is drinking’. Family law attorney Sheila Romell believes SCRAMs could ‘spare clients financial and emotional stress’ since without such a device, ‘it’s really hard to catch somebody and know exactly how much they’ve been drinking’.
Should a SCRAM be insufficient, however, a new model ‘SCRAMx’ has been introduced onto the market, which couples alcohol monitoring and house arrest technology into ‘one cutting edge device’. There is also considerable new research and development being undertaken in this field – which has been dubbed ‘technocorrections’ – with initiatives in the pipeline including anklets that can monitor the ingestion of other substances, monitor stress levels and even monitor muscle patterns to detect whether someone has driven a car under the influence of alcohol.
Government officials in the UK reportedly have no plans to introduce SCRAMs yet and it appears that AMS is focusing primarily on growing in the US market. However, Lohan is rapidly becoming, as one blogger puts it, the ‘poster child of technocorrections’ and it may only be a matter of time before a bright spark in Whitehall decides to introduce the devices as a new way of attempting to dry out boozy Britons.
Technocorrection devices treat people like animals, branding them as criminals and shaming them in public. They turn society into an open-prison for those ordered to wear them, keeping these people on a constant leash, with their movements and habits monitored until they are deemed worthy of rejoining civilised society.
As the expansion of technocorrection devices shows, it is not unfeasible to predict that the technology may well soon be used to ‘correct’ other bad habits, too. Why not monitor people’s nicotine intake or the amount of fatty food we scoff? Or how about monitoring our testosterone levels to ensure we control our anger? And, as we are seeing with SCRAMs, such technology is not just intended to rein in celebrity hell-raisers such as Lohan. Why not compel people to use it as a demonstration of abstinence or to prove that we are responsible parents, lovers or citizens? As the mantra of surveillance-proponents goes: If you’ve got nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear. So why not wear an anklet to prove it?
Technocorrection devices were first mooted in the 1970s by a judge who was inspired by a comic where Spiderman was being tracked by an electronic transmitter. Surely, he reasoned, such a device could be developed to monitor offenders? But just because technology can be developed doesn’t mean it should. Some ideas should remain as fantasy.
Patrick Hayes is a co-founder of the Institute of Ideas’ Current Affairs Forum and one of the organisers of the Battle of Ideas festival.