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Correction to This Article
This article about electronically monitoring people for alcohol consumption misidentified Arthur J. Lurigio, a professor of psychology and criminal justice, as Albert J. Lurigio. The article also did not specify which Loyola University he is affiliated with; it is Loyola University Chicago.

Sweat Becomes Offenders' New Snitch

Alcohol-Sniffing Anklet Saves Money but Stirs Privacy Fears

Bari Lynne Williams said she has endured some gawking over her ankle monitoring device.
Bari Lynne Williams said she has endured some gawking over her ankle monitoring device. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 25, 2009

The government has buried its nose in Bari Lynne Williams's personal business.

This Story

Almost literally.

Twenty-four hours a day, whether she's jogging, sleeping or managing a pool hall, Williams wears a high-tech sensor on her ankle that can detect the faintest whiff of alcohol in her perspiration. If she sneaks a drink, the device will know it -- and so will a judge, who could put her behind bars for violating a court order to avoid alcoholic beverages.

At $12 a day, the anklet is a bargain, compared with $150 a day to house a minor offender such as Williams in the Loudoun County jail, and far less than the $24,332 a year it costs Virginia to keep a felon in state prison.

Best of all, backers say, Williams and other offenders pay the bill.

The biometric anklet represents a recent technological breakthrough whose popularity is gaining as state and local governments search for ways to close budget deficits during the recession. More than half of all states have slashed spending on corrections this year, while some, including New Hampshire, Michigan, California and now Virginia, are closing prisons, releasing some prisoners early or expanding the use of electronic monitoring.

Local governments are also targeting jails for cost-savings. Loudoun, which began using the alcohol-monitoring device 18 months ago, introduced a pilot program last week using anklets with global positioning system technology to track juvenile offenders. Fairfax County Supervisor Pat S. Herrity (R-Springfield) hopes to promote the use of it for his county, and a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge applied it to a defendant in a domestic violence case.

But the gadget has also stirred "Big Brother" jitters as technological advances make it easier for governments and corporations to keep tabs on people. While law enforcement has been using satellite-based GPS to track offenders' whereabouts for some time, privacy advocates say the alcohol-monitoring device -- known as Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor, or SCRAM -- has taken law enforcement into the realm of continuously and remotely monitoring people's physical condition.

"We are at a point where no one could have even imagined 15 years ago," said Arthur J. Lurigio, a professor of psychology and criminal justice at Loyola University who has written about electronic monitoring and privacy since a New Mexico judge, inspired by Spider-Man comics, became the first to sentence a defendant to home confinement with an electronic monitor.

The driver these days is money. The National Conference of State Legislatures lists 28 states that are squeezing savings from corrections by easing harsh drug laws, laying off staff workers or closing prisons. New Hampshire's governor has proposed using home confinement for habitual drunk drivers, and California lawmakers considered freeing thousands of nonviolent inmates and monitoring them with GPS devices before opting for less-controversial cuts.

Faced with such a dilemma, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) announced more layoffs and cuts recently, including the closing of three correctional facilities. In Maryland, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said last month that it would close the Herman L. Toulson Correctional Facility in Jessup and shift inmates out of the Metropolitan Transition Center in Baltimore.

People stare at Williams's chunky gray anklet when she's out and about, so sometimes she swaddles it in a bandage. On her daily jog around her Ashburn neighborhood, she hides it with Velcro ankle weights or tape. But at other times, wearing a skirt and heels, she almost seems to flaunt the anklet, as if eager to share a cautionary tale.


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