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Louisville Metro Council Gets Details On New DUI Anklet Program

city Hall
city Hall

A new program to monitor DUI offenders is getting little pushback from Louisville Metro Council members.

The council's public safety committee met for its regular meeting on Wednesday and heard testimony from District Judge Stephanie Burke. She discussed details of the new program that uses anklets to monitor the amount of alcohol in a person's sweat.

Burke said about 10 residents are currently wearing the anklets. Offenders will wear the anklets for a predetermined time with the goal of reducing recidivism, incarceration costs, and the number of drunken drivers on the city's streets.

"It's another option courts have, another tool," Burke said, noting the new program comes in addition to a recently enacted "ignition interlock" program. That requires drivers to blow into a device before starting a vehicle; if alcohol is detected, the vehicle won't start.

Members of the council's bipartisan committee peppered Burke and representatives from SCRAM Systems -- the anklet manufacturer -- with questions during the hour-long meeting.

But in the meeting, no one voiced serious reservations about the system.

'You can't put a dollar figure' on saving a life

Councilwoman Angela Leet, a Republican from District 7, called the anklet a "brilliant technology that's going to solve a problem."

"And thank you to Judge Burke for bringing it to our community," she said.

Committee Chair David James said members are interested in "anything that is going to enhance our public safety."

Burke said the new program will come "at no additional cost" to taxpayers. She said the cost of the program will be absorbed by current drug court systems.

"The services are the same," she said. "I do not envision it being an additional burden."

For residents ordered to wear the anklets, daily costs could climb to $14 a day, according to the Jefferson County Attorney's Office.

As for savings, Burke said reduced costs will come through fewer court needs and incarceration needs.

"If you reduce the number of accidents and you save a life, you can't put a dollar figure on that," she said.

Depending on the case, the program could be recommended by a prosecutor while a defendant is awaiting trial or entered as a condition of a plea agreement or both, according to a news release from the Jefferson County Attorney's office -- which announced this program earlier this month.

Jefferson County DUIs On The Decline

Hundreds of residents are stopped and cited for drunken driving in Jefferson County each year, according to data from the state's Administrative Office of the Courts.

But the data also show the number of such cases is declining.

In fiscal year 2012, there were just more than 4,000 DUI cases filed in Jefferson District Court, according to the state agency. In fiscal year 2017 -- which ended earlier this summer -- there were about 1,800 such cases.

Of those approximately 1,800 cases in the most recent fiscal year, nearly a third were repeat offenders.

And those repeat offenders are on whom Burke said the anklet program will focus.

"We're doing something that will improve public safety," she said. "I think this is a big step forward, a progressive step forward for our court."

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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