RACINE COUNTY — It has been nearly a year since the Racine County Sheriff’s Office started a program that put a cutting-edge, automated breath-test kiosk into use to track offenders’ sobriety.
And the program’s success may lead the Sheriff’s Office to consider utilizing more of the kiosks, Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said.
Racine County is one of three Wisconsin counties, Portage and St. Croix are the others, to implement the use of a self-use alcohol screening kiosk created by Minneapolis-based Precision Kiosk Technologies.
Before the kiosk was in place, deputies traveled across the county, testing people required to remain sober by taking a portable breath test to each of their residences.
But the advent of new technology allows people to provide proof of their sobriety any day, any time. The kiosk is fully automated and does not require the presence of anyone but the test-taker.
Enrollees in the program are nonviolent offenders, including those facing their first or second drunken-driving charge. As terms of their probation, they may be required to maintain sobriety. Scheduled alcohol and drug screenings ensure an offender stays sober.
“They are no longer relying on the deputy to go to their home,” Barbara Teeling, a Sheriff’s Office corrections officer and the kiosk program director, said. “They have to take accountability for themselves.”
In addition to the two samples enrollees must provide at the kiosk daily, they are also routinely spot-checked by deputies who can arrive at their home at any time and require an on-the-spot check using a portable breath test.
How it works
To provide a sample, program participants go to the automated kiosk, which is in the lobby of the Racine County Jail, 717 Wisconsin Ave. The kiosk is accessible and manned by an attendant 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Enrollees begin by placing their finger on the machine’s fingerprint reader, and the machine snaps an image of the test-taker. When their identity is confirmed, they blow into the machine using a disposable straw that affixes to the machine. The results are then sent almost instantly to Teeling.
“There’s no way to fool the machine,” Schmaling said. “The technology is just amazing.”
The kiosk is paid for by program enrollees. Each test costs $2, with $1 going to the kiosk’s manufacturer and the other $1 going to the Sheriff’s Office program.
“We are utilizing technology to help maintain sobriety for those who find themselves addicted and, also, to hold their hands to the fire,” Schmaling said.
Since Jan. 1, more than 2,000 screening samples have been provided via the new kiosk. Only one has tested positive.
“By our stats, I believe it’s working,” Schmaling said.
An average of 21 people a day provide samples at the kiosk twice daily.
Since its implementation, more than 150 enrollees people have participated in the program. Of those program participants in the past year, only two have come back in the jail for new offenses.
“I’ve had a lot of enrollees tell me that for them having to make that choice on a daily basis to get up and get here has made them make better choices in the future,” Teeling said. “They are getting jobs, they are staying sober, realizing what kind of life they can have not coming in here all the time. We have a goal of the recidivism rate going down.”
In the future, Schmaling said he would like to potentially expand the program by adding additional kiosks throughout the county: potentially at the Racine County Patrol Station, 14116 Washington Ave., Yorkville; and one or two kiosks on the county’s west end.
“We want to make it convenient for these enrollees,” Schmaling said.
At the end of the year, the Sheriff’s Office will and discuss the program’s progress and the possibility of adding one or more kiosk.
“The whole idea behind this program is to give them an option and the ability to stay sober,” Schmaling said. “And through that, we believe we can protect the community much better than what we have been with individuals who struggle with alcohol addiction.”