Positive initial results of Alcohol Meter
The Alcohol Meter can help to prevent alcohol abuse and alcohol-related crime. It is proving to be a reliable means of verifying compliance with alcohol bans. The first year of the pilot has been evaluated and the second-year results over 2018 should provide further clarity next year. The Alcohol Meter is an ankle bracelet that continually analyses perspiration to determine whether alcohol has been consumed, when it was consumed and how much was consumed. Between 26% and 43% of violence perpetrated in the Netherlands is alcohol-related, costing the country between 2.3 and 2.9 billion euros each year. For this reason, the approach taken to deal with alcohol abuse is crucial to tackling acts of violence and other forms of crime, as Minister of Justice and Security Ferdinand Grapperhaus wrote today in a letter to the Dutch House of Representatives.
The Dutch Criminal Code (Wetboek van Strafrecht) provides for the imposition of an alcohol ban as a special condition. Compliance with a ban is verified twice a week on average by the probation service through a breath, blood or urine test. As a result of this snapshot, the alcohol ban can be contravened in the intervening periods. This fact prompted the Dutch Addiction Probation Service, the Public Prosecution Service, and the Ministry of Justice and Security to test the Alcohol Meter’s reliability, ease of use and effectiveness through a pilot conducted in the Rotterdam and East Netherlands units in 2017. Twenty-six people took part in the 2017 pilot, some because participation was voluntary and others because they were already electronically tagged. For this reason, the results of the pilot’s first year should be interpreted with considerable caution.
One of the twenty-six participants committed offences, including assault and resisting arrest, while wearing an Alcohol Meter. In the three months after their Alcohol Meters were removed, none of the participants in the pilot had been in trouble with the police.
Alcohol Meter wearers have positive things to say about its effects. The monitors made them more aware of their dependence on alcohol and gave them a good incentive not to drink. Some continued to feel that effect even after having stopped wearing them, while others worried about relapsing and wanted to wear them for more than the allotted 75 days; they said that they would provide them with a visible reminder not to drink over the Christmas period. Interference on some level with the ankle bracelet was observed in the case of four wearers. They received a warning or were interviewed by their supervisors. The participants abstained from alcohol for 97.5% of the time during which their alcohol consumption was monitored using an Alcohol Meter.
Generally speaking, public prosecutors and lawyers think that Alcohol Meters are effective tools for monitoring compliance with an alcohol ban. Their functioning and reliability are key aspects for public prosecutors. Some lawyers qualified their support, noting the invasion of privacy involved. Probation service supervisors indicated that the monitors give them a clearer idea of drinking patterns; they can address this matter during interviews with their client, which in turn benefits the counselling process.
2018 pilot year
The pilot was extended by one year and the target group was expanded at the end of 2017. As well as people subject to an alcohol ban, those under the supervision of the probation service accompanied by obligatory or voluntary monitoring of alcohol consumption were able to participate in the pilot during 2018. In the period up to and including November 2018, 106 people were connected to an Alcohol Meter (26 in 2017 and 80 in 2018). The results of the 2018 pilot will be shared with the House of Representatives in the autumn of 2019.
The Alcohol Meter is a means of working on behaviour change in terms of alcohol consumption within the framework of criminal law. It is used in conjunction with probation supervision. The aim is to make penalties more effective and meaningful, as well as to provide people who have an alcohol problem with personalised guidance.