One by one, the five Riverside County supervisors stood Tuesday afternoon during their regularly scheduled meeting and read aloud pieces of a proclamation announcing that December 2012 is “National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month” in the county.
The program is intended to remind casual, social drinkers that they are part of the driving-under-the-influence problem.
The county’s Department of Mental Health put the issue before the board, and the department’s director, Jerry A. Wengerd, told the supervisors the program is targeted at those who “have one or two and then go on the road.”
“Many drivers may be unaware their driving abilities can be seriously impaired by the use of alcohol and drugs even though their blood alcohol levels register below California Driving Under the Influence Standards,” according to documents presented to the board Tuesday.
The prevention month campaign was first conceived under former president Ronald Reagan in 1982, Wengerd said.
No county funding is being proposed for the December campaign, according to the county documents. As part of the program, the county's mental health department is working with residents, law enforcement and schools to raise awareness about the dangers of driving under the influence.
But during Tuesday’s meeting, the supervisors directed the Executive Office to also dig into the county budget to see if there are funds available to support an alcohol-monitoring program that has proven successful in keeping hardcore DUI offenders from causing trouble.
At the urging of Supervisor Jeff Stone, the county will attempt to find money to assist indigent defendants convicted of driving under the influence who utilize the "Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring" -- or SCRAM -- program.
County officials said there is a $2,200 balance in a fund set up for DUI offenders who can't afford enrollment in the program. In 2009, the Board of Supervisors allocated $50,000 to shore it up. Stone today asked that fellow supervisors withdraw discretionary money from their individual community improvement budgets to again ensure the program's longevity.
"SCRAM has a 93 percent success rate," said Stone, who strongly advocated the program's implementation by the courts in 2008. "These are offenders who do not recidivate."
SCRAM devices, which are ankle-mounted, can detect alcohol consumption by measuring the content of a person's perspiration. A DUI offender who agrees to wear the eight-ounce bracelet as part of his or her probation must keep it on for anywhere from three to 12 months.
Sensors can pick up a blood-alcohol level of .02 or above. The devices have tamper detection systems that reveal when an offender is trying to inhibit or remove them, according to Littleton, Colo.-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems, Inc., which developed the SCRAM technology.
Leaders in Community Alternatives Inc., headquartered in San Francisco, oversees the SCRAM program in Riverside County. LCA President Linda Connelly told the board that over the last three years, 1,000 DUI offenders countywide had completed the program.
"Our clients are hardcore alcoholics," Connelly said. "They can do jail standing on their head. Unless they're held accountable and made to stop drinking, this (alcohol addiction) problem will continue."
SCRAM users are charged according to a sliding scale based on the person's income and other factors. LCA needs $12 a day to cover the costs associated with outfitting each convict.
Stone said SCRAM helps keep offenders out of already-overcrowded local jails. The sheriff's department is on track to "kick out" 7,000 low-level inmates this year. The early releases are a result of a federal court decree that all cell occupants have a bed. When beds aren't available, sheriff's officials must decide who can be released onto the street at the least risk to public safety.
"Let's reserve jail space for the most violent offenders in the county," Stone said.
Supervisor John Benoit questioned whether he had the funds available in his community budget to allocate to the SCRAM program, prompting county CEO Jay Orr to vow to look at alternative funding within the 2012-13 budget.
"This is desperately needed," Orr said.
The board directed the Executive Office to come back in two weeks with a report on what general fund money, if any, is available for the program. --City News Service contributed to this report