Posted: May 13, 2013 8:38 PM by Melissa Anderson - MTN News
HELENA - In its short history, Montana's 24/7 Sobriety Program is showing great success. Under the program, people accused of two or more DUI's take twice-daily alcohol breath tests or wear an alcohol monitoring bracelet.
One of the program participants is Eric Winfield, who has been giving breathalyzer tests twice a day at the Helena 24/7 program for more than four months.
He is one of about 90 people court-ordered to the alcohol sobriety program.
Winfield said, "I like it. It keeps me on my toes. I think it's very beneficial for people who have drinking problems like for myself."
The cost of the program is paid for by the participants.
Lewis & Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton explained, "They have to pay $2 in the morning, and $2 in the evening for the test, that's cheaper than a beer."
24/7 Program Coordinator Brock Harris conducts many of the tests and says most who come here want to be successful.
However, there are some who blow "hot."
Harris said, "If someone blows positive they have a 20 minute deprivation time after the first positive test to test again to see if it's an actual positive test. And then after that we call a deputy and they are arrested and taken to the detention center."
In the past year, Harris says, violators have been few and far between. But when they do occur, then comes the excuses: "It's usually cough syrup, or mouthwash, toothpaste, those kinds of things. And if they can't make it, their alarm didn't go off, things like that."
For those who are willing to spend a little more money and a little less time, they can get on a waiting list for alcohol monitoring bracelets known as SCRAM.
"It's comfortable for me, you just can't get it wet, you can't submerge it in water. You can take showers and stuff like that. And I work with it all the time," said Tom Synness.
At a cost of $8 per day, the data on the electronic devices is downloaded once a week. The bracelets measure alcohol trans-dermally. It can pick exact times, dates, and amounts of any violations.
Jacquie Bennett says the program has changed her lifestyle: "It's a big expense but like I said, in the long run, it's been well worth it. It's been a long road. But, I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel."
The 24/7 program can include alleged felony DUI offenders who need to maintain sobriety while awaiting sentencing. However, it is mostly for those who have 2nd and 3rd DUI's.
"DUI's is the reason I am in trouble and I agree that this is a program that teaches people a lesson," said Synness.
So far, the program has about a 99 percent success rate.
While the program still has equipment and overhead costs, it appears to be working.
"It will pay for itself, it's just not going to be right away. We've been at it for about three years. I'll tell you, there is a lot of success rate in this." said Sheriff Dutton.
"A lot of people do pretty well in this program and I think it does keep them from drinking," added Harris.
But according to County Coroner Mickey Nelson, until attitudes change about drinking and driving, programs to deter such actions will only make a dent in the statistics.
Nelson said, "Well over one half of all traffic fatalities have involved alcohol in a detectable level that would be considered DUI. Until we have zero we will probably have this epidemic."
While most DUI offenders on the 24/7 program didn't cause any deaths, it's the innocent victims of such tragic accidents that carry the legacy of the drivers who did.