Idaho Man stays sober with alcohol anklet device

By Bradley Guire

Times-News

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) -- When Joshua Hagins couldn't deal with the hardships of his life, he turned to liquor, twisting off the cap and letting the fire in his belly take over.

But the liquor only made matters worse. It made him reckless and irresponsible -- Hagins said it's a miracle he never killed anyone for all the times he got behind the wheel after taking more than a trickle of hard booze. Now 33, he's admittedly been drinking since he was 15.

"It was just an escape," Hagins said. "I've struggled with it over the years. I'd have a period of time, like six months, and be sober. But when I couldn't find work, it led to my drinking. My bills were stacking up. I decided to go out and drink, and this is the result of it."

Hagins' second arrest for driving under the influence was charged as excessive, and for good reason. Police say he was roaring down Twin Falls' Washington Street at 90 mph one night in March. When his car couldn't go as hard as Hagins demanded, police caught up with him.

Police say a breath test showed Hagins' blood-alcohol concentration at the time of his arrest at .294 -- more than three times over a driver's legal limit.

This time, Hagins claims he's cleaning up. And this time, he has some extra help.

As part of being released from jail and ordered into a court compliance program, Hagins lives at the Victory House recovery center in Twin Falls and wears an alcohol-monitoring anklet known as SCRAMx. It's similar to tracking anklets used to monitor people under house arrest, but with a key difference -- instead of ensuring Hagins is where he's supposed to be, the anklet is all about helping him steer clear of the places he's not.

"If not for this thing, I'd be in jail," Hagins said. "It's like a virtual jail."

The anklet is calibrated to test its wearer's blood-alcohol content through body sweat and takes a sample every 30 minutes. Israel Enriquez, a court compliance officer in the Twin Falls County Magistrate Probation Office, said the office has 13 anklets currently assigned to individuals awaiting court dates.

"It's a good deterrent," Enriquez said. "It allows them to get some clean time under their belts. Hopefully, in the meantime while they're staying away from alcohol, they can seek other means of treatment. Some people do well, and some people don't."

According to statistics kept by the probation office, of the 14 individuals assigned to wear an ankle monitor in the first quarter of 2011, only two consumed alcohol while wearing the devices. The office saw only one other offense in the past 12 months.

The terms for what constitutes as a violation are "pretty black and white," Enriquez said. Anklet wearers are obviously prohibited from drinking alcohol, but they're also not allowed to be where alcohol is present or served.

"They can't go to bars, but if they go to a restaurant with alcohol, like Jakers, that's OK," he said.

Tiffany Hall, also a court compliance officer with Twin Falls County, recalled how one SCRAMx wearer was nearly arrested for wearing the device in the wrong place. Hall said the man was on a business trip for the company and wearing an anklet for testing when he became lost.

He looked for somewhere to stop and ask directions, finding a liquor store as his only option. Once inside and spotted with an alcohol-monitoring anklet, the man found himself confronted by officers after the clerk called police to report a suspected violation.

Although phone tips about anklet violators are common, Enriquez said, there is no law that obligates people to report a suspected violation, such as an anklet wearer attempting to buy alcohol from a liquor store. Few calls are based on solid information, he noted, as he's received calls from angry ex-spouses trying to get the better of a former partner.

"A lot comes down to the discretion of the probation officer," Enriquez added.

The anklet helps keep Hagins in check while he continues his recovery at Victory House, which is teaching him the tools to go into a faith-based ministry one day. He hopes to help others who suffer through drug and alcohol dependency, rather than sit in a jail cell and count down the days until his release.

"I'm going to help other people with the problems I've had with alcohol," he said. "I have experience in it, and I know what it does and what it causes. It causes hurt and pain to people, your family and loved ones."

Hagins has reported his test results to Enriquez for about two months. He'll will continue to do so indefinitely, as his recent charges of excessive driving under the influence and eluding an officer are still pending in Twin Falls County 5th District Court. He wishes someone would have forced the anklet on him years ago.

"If they would have put me on this after my first (DUI in 2009), this would have helped me quit drinking," Hagins said, "and I wouldn't have gotten my other one."

Published: Thu, Jul 7, 2011