Proposal would allow home confinement for multiple DUI convictions
People convicted of multiple drunken driving offenses will be eligible to serve their sentences at home under a bill passed by the state House of Representatives Tuesday.
That proposal, along with an early earned release program for inmates, was part of so-called implementer legislation intended to, as some lawmakers described, put meat on the bones of the two-year budget framework the governor signed into law earlier this month.
It was the first of about a half-dozen budget implementers the Democratic-majority House and Senate will act on prior to the legislative session's end June 8. The state correction commissioner will be able to transfer convicted drunken drivers from prison to supervised home confinement, where they will be subject to electronic monitoring and have ignition interlock devices installed in their vehicles.
As he sought to close a $3.3 billion deficit, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy earlier this year proposed house arrest as a means of reducing the prison population.
The approach that passed Tuesday would require anyone repeatedly convicted of driving under the influence to first go to prison, at which time they will be evaluated for home confinement based on criteria to be developed by an advisory committee. First offenders now typically receive probation, while second offenders are sentenced to a minimum of 120 days in jail and third offenders at least a year in prison.
Janice Heggie Margolis, executive director of the Connecticut branch of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said the organization played a significant role in drafting the proposal in the hopes of reducing the rate of repeat offenders.
"What is happening now in prison isn't working," Margolis said. But she added the organization was assured by the Malloy administration home confinement would not apply to anyone convicted of killing or injuring another while drunk behind the wheel.
Michael Lawlor, Malloy's undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning, agreed.
"If you're drunk and hurt anybody or kill anybody, this doesn't apply," Lawlor said.
The bill also grants the corrections commissioner discretion to award "risk reduction credits" of up to five days per month for "good conduct" toward reducing an inmate's sentence.
Lawlor said the goal of the incentives, offered in 45 states, is to better prepare prisoners for life outside, reducing the likelihood they will again commit a crime.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, and his GOP colleagues complained during Tuesday's debate that by including sweeping criminal justice proposals, the implementer was enacting policies that should be debated as separate bills.
The Judiciary Committee earlier in the session passed a home confinement proposal for drunken drivers. Co-Chairman Gerald Fox, D-Stamford, said the bill could have been voted on separately by the House but he had no problem wrapping that program into a budget implementer.
Republicans also complained some of the changes went too far. Cafero said, as written, the risk reduction credits can be awarded to violent offenders and pedophiles "for being a good boy or girl and staying out of trouble while in prison."
"Those people (sex offenders) shouldn't get out one second before they're supposed to," said Deputy Republican Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby.
But Lawlor argued the program is not intended for high-risk inmates. And he said it is not a reward simply for behaving in prison, but for participating in drug treatment, anger management, education and other programs to help lower the crime rate.
Tuesday's House debate is likely to be repeated when other implementers come up for a vote as Republicans use the opportunity to criticize the budget deal struck by Malloy and the Democratic majority.
Cafero said it was premature for the full General Assembly to even take up implementers since a major piece of the budget -- $1.6 billion in union concessions -- has not been ratified by state employees. That process is expected to extend into mid-June.
But House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said, "We passed a budget in early May." If we sat around here and waited until the last day of session, the public would be saying to us, `What the heck have you guys been doing?' "
Staff Writer Brian Lockhart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.