SCRAM devices are criticized by Cook County Council

SCRAM devices are criticized by Cook County Council

At a meeting of the Cook County Council’s Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday, commissioners asked how a private company that provides SCRAM alcohol monitoring devices to people convicted of wearing them by the courts was allowed to operating without a contract since January 2021.

The hearing, convened by Commissioner Bridget Gainer, followed Injustice Watch reports of contract expirations, the disproportionate number of people assigned to SCRAM by Associate Judge Gregory P. Vazquez at the Maywood Courthouse and the financial toll of the alcohol monitoring program on the people ordered to wear the anklets.

CAM Systems, the vendor first selected in 2017 to supply SCRAM anklets in Cook County, charges defendants $12 to $24 a day to be on the monitor.

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The company charged more than $3 million to the 1,067 Cook County defendants who were ordered to wear SCRAM bracelets from 2017 to 2021, according to data provided to the county board by the company.

A review of the data by Injustice Watch showed that people spent an average of seven months on the device and owed an average of almost $2,800 – although one person who was tasked with wearing SCRAM for almost four and a half years was billed $26,600 for the device. .

During the hearing, the Chief Justice’s Office, which oversees the circuit court’s probation and social services departments, defended the continuation of the partnership with CAM Systems without a contract. Chief Financial Officer James Anderson said Chief Justice Timothy Evans’ office had not sought board approval for a one-year extension to the original contract at the end of 2020 because relatively few people had been referred to SCRAM during the depths of the pandemic, and “we thought we were on the verge of shutting down the program,” Anderson said.

But Evans’ office did not shut down the program or renew the CAM Systems contract, instead pursuing what Anderson called an “implied contract”, which he said is “recognized by Illinois law”.

But commissioners were unhappy with the idea of ​​an implied contract between a county agency and a private, for-profit company.

“I think as a public entity there are different expectations,” Commissioner Bridget Degnen told Anderson. “This supplier, like any other supplier, must follow a reasonable sourcing process for transparency.”

Degnen added that the absence of a contract is of particular concern when those ordered to pay CAM Systems for SCRAM have no choice of supplier. “We need to look at how this provider is taking advantage of these people,” she said, “and if they want to take advantage of it, we need to know exactly what that profit is and whether or not it meets the expectations. County.

CAM Systems CEO Robert Nienhouse did not appear at the hearing and did not respond when asked by Injustice Watch how much of the $3 million the company billed defendants had actually been collected or how much the company had made a profit. As Injustice Watch first reported last year, CAM Systems sued dozens of people in small claims court to collect more than $165,000 in SCRAM device debt.

During the hearing, Gainer noted that the company “goes back to the same court system to then collect money when people can’t pay for SCRAM,” adding that it has transformed the court system funded by the State into a tool for profit. “That’s not true. We have to be aware that private profit has no place (in the criminal justice system),” she said.

Following the hearing, Gainer introduced a resolution calling for a full audit of CAM Systems’ finances relating to its Cook County customers and an independent review of SCRAM’s effectiveness. The Criminal Justice Committee and the full County Council will vote next month on whether to approve the audit.

Anderson said Evans’ office submitted a new draft request for proposals to the county’s purchasing department and said the office is committed to continuing to offer SCRAM to judges as an alternative to incarceration. There was no indication that judges would be ordered to stop putting people on SCRAM through CAM Systems while the new procurement process is underway.

SCRAM is most often assigned by judges as a condition of probation in DUI cases, but Injustice Watch found cases where Vazquez ordered defendants to use the device, despite the fact that they had not done so. facing alcohol-related charges.

According to data CAM Systems shared with the county council, 63% of people fitted with a SCRAM device had been charged with drunk driving, and a further 22% were facing reckless driving charges. But 56 people were placed under SCRAM when charged with driving with a revoked or suspended license – and nearly three-quarters of them were sentenced to alcohol control by Vazquez.

Overall, Vazquez accounted for about 20% of all SCRAM assignments in the county from 2017 through 2021. However, 44% of those assigned to SCRAM in June were ordered to the device by Vazquez, according to data from the Bureau of the chief judge.

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