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Alcohol bracelet set to transform child protection

A SOBRIETY bracelet that has revolutionised child protection cases looks set to become part of Scotland's arsenal in its war against alcohol and crime problems.

Scottish ministers have been following the work of a court in London that has used the bracelets to monitor parents with alcohol problems  Photograph:  Jamie Simpson
Scottish ministers have been following the work of a court in London that has used the bracelets to monitor parents with alcohol problems Photograph: Jamie Simpson

The bracelet has been trialled in London to bring into line parents with drink problems and offenders who commit alcohol-fuelled crime.

The Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) is exploring the costs of introducing a bracelet system to Scotland to deal with alcohol-related crime, and the Scottish Government says it is currently following the results of the London pilot "with interest".

Scottish alcohol campaigners say the bracelet will protect children from abusive, drunken parents. Initial evidence suggests the ankle tags – which provide the authorities with real-time alerts if someone consumes alcohol – acted as a powerful deterrent for parents who faced having their children taken into care unless they got to grips with their drinking.

Now there are hopes a similar model could be used in Scotland to help the 93,000 children and young people living with parents who abuse alcohol.

The SCRAMx bracelets are widely used in the US to monitor people convicted of drink-driving, with Hollywood actress Lindsay Lohan famously forced to wear one of the devices in 2010 after breaching probation terms.

The tamper-proof ankle tags work like a breathalyser for the skin, checking every 30 minutes for "transdermal" traces of ethanol – the molecule present in alcoholic drinks. It transmits the findings in real time to a remote location, where police or social services are able to determine whether the wearer has been drinking.

The London pilot carried out over the last six months was pioneered by Judge Nicholas Crichton, who established the city's first Family Drug and Alcohol Court.

The court tries to limit the number of children who end up in care by providing intensive therapy and assistance to parents to tackle their addiction. He says the recent addition of the sobriety bracelet to the programme had proved an effective tool.

Crichton said: "We had a mother who wore [the bracelet] for three months with no alerts. She had been a heavy drinker beforehand, but she wanted to prove herself and get her daughter back, and she did.

"I liken it to Weight Watchers ... knowing you have to come in every fortnight and go on the scales, that keeps you motivated and keeps you honest."

Research is already under way at the Scottish VRU to assess the viability of rolling out a sobriety tagging programme to monitor violent offenders convicted of alcohol-related crime. Studies have found half the prisoners in Scotland's jails were drunk at the time of committing an offence, while 70% of assaults presenting at A&E are alcohol-related.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We will follow the work being undertaken in London with interest and will also continue to work closely with partners including the VRU on existing measures to make our streets safer and end Scotland's heavy drinking culture, as well as bringing forward our plans for minimum unit pricing."

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