DUI sentencing bill challenged
May 1, 2011
The bill to prohibit residential confinement as part of the minimum sentence for those convicted of DUI causing death would cost the state money and create a worse result, according to two lawyers who handle those criminal cases.
Senate Bill 72 was drafted by the attorney general’s office to clarify that those inmates must serve the full minimum sentence imposed by a judge before being eligible for release from prison.
Prison officials for years had been granting those inmates release to residential confinement once they were within a year of serving that minimum sentence. The interpretation of the law was changed after advocates protested and some two dozen inmates who had been in the residential confinement program were tossed back in prison last year.
That move resulted in several lawsuits saying imprisoning those inmates was a violation of the law.
Orrin Johnson of the Washoe County Public Defender’s office and lawyer Tammy Riggs, who represents one of those DUI inmates urged the Senate Finance Committee to kill the bill.
“I would note for the record how much cheaper intervention is than incarceration,” said Johnson.
Riggs said the attorney general’s office was wrong when it changed the interpretation of the law allowing residential confinement as part of the DUI offender’s minimum sentence, that the releases were legal.
But she said the point for the Finance Committee to focus on is the cost of incarcerating about two dozen more inmates each year compared to residential confinement under which the inmate covers all of his or her own treatment and living costs.
“Offenders bear the burden of cost of treatment, drug treatment and alcohol treatment. They’re required to get jobs, required to be monitored 24/7 in their home,” she said. “We believe the original fiscal note is the correct number; $25,000 a year is what is the correct cost of incarcerating an offender.”
She said the believes the Department of Corrections’ original fiscal note of $1 million plus each year, not the new number of $32,000 this coming year and $61,000 the following year.
“That’s impossible,” she said.
Riggs also told the committee SB72 would actually cause an increase in DUI accidents and wind up costing the state more because those inmates in prison don’t get drug and alcohol treatment.
“Since 2007, NDOC has not funded the cost of treatment,” she said. “There will be more accidents because those people aren’t getting treatment and aren’t going into the residential confinement program. SB72 will absolutely result in more victims of DUI accidents.”
Rex Reid of the Department of Corrections said the number was revised down because it represents the “incremental cost” of adding a few inmates to already existing but empty beds in a prison, which doesn’t require adding staff or other major costs. He said it’s just the cost of food, clothing and other such things. The total prisons budget divided by the number of inmates, he said, does come in close to $25,000 per inmate.
Committee Chairman Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, told Director of Corrections Greg Cox to discuss his fiscal note with fiscal staff and present the added cost of housing those inmates as a budget amendment.