Home confinement for DUI offenders faces roadblocks
Budget-related reform: Committee approves home confinement for drunken drivers
Published 3:50 pm, Thursday, March 31, 2011
As many as 220 low-risk drunken driving and drug offenders could be sentenced to home confinement under legislation approved Wednesday afternoon in the Judiciary Committee.
The committee's Democratic majority approved the legislation, part of a package of budget-related reforms proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. It next heads to the House of Representatives, although committee leaders admitted the measure's financial implications need to be further researched.
Under the legislation, the commissioner of the state Department of Correction would have the discretion to determine which offenders would be allowed home confinement to avoid occupying a prison bed.
The bill would allow first-time drunken drivers a three-month license suspension, followed by a nine-month period in which their breath would be analyzed for alcohol prior to starting their vehicles, using ignition-interlock technology at their expense.
Currently, first-time intoxicated drivers are subject to 90-day license suspensions and then often are enrolled in alcohol education programs. If they pass those programs, they'll avoid having a criminal record.
Those already incarcerated for drunken driving and low-level drug-possession offenses would be reviewed for possible house arrest under the legislation. In other cases, nonviolent inmates who take advantage of training and education programs would be eligible for a reduction in sentences.
"The advantages of this are two-fold," said Rep. Gerald M. Fox III, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the committee. "It would first reduce the cost of the prison population, but it would also make it less likely that those who are incarcerated for committing crimes will commit crimes in the future."
There are 20 low-risk drug offenders currently in prison, plus about 200 low-risk DUI offenders in the system.
"We want folks to become productive members of our society," said Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, ranking member of the committee, who supported the bill.
Among committee members opposing the legislation were Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby; Rep. DebraLee Hovey, R-Monroe; Rep. T.R. Rowe, R-Trumbull; Sen. Michael A. McLachlan, R-Danbury; and Rep. David K. Labriola, R-Naugatuck.
Labriola noted the bill includes provisions for state prison officials to sentence second- and third-time drunken-driving offenders to house arrest rather than prison.
"The problem that I have with this is it would be reducing the penalties for those people who are convicted of multiple DUI cases," Labriola said. "I don't want to send a signal across the country that if you already have a conviction for DUI and you were to move to Connecticut, well there the penalties are much less for multiple, subsequent convictions for DUI."
He said it isn't until a third drunken-driving conviction that a defendant faces 120 days in prison; and fourth case and third conviction would result in a mandatory one-year sentence.
"I don't want to see those weakened or lessened in any way," Labriola said.
"I believe that, overall, this bill is well-intentioned, and I don't have a problem with the majority of it," Klarides said. "But the drunk-driving part, being here as many years as I've been here, we've spent so much time and effort in making our drunk-driving laws as strong as they can be and as effective as they can be, and even though it's not the intention of this bill to dilute that, I think we see unintended consequences all the time, and I'm afraid that's what will ultimately happen."