(WJI) -- The Department of Corrections would spend an additional $13.6 million annually to imprison fifth- and sixth-offense drunk drivers if the Legislature adopts a measure mandating 18-month minimum prison sentences for those offenders, according to a fiscal estimate from the department.

Under current law, fifth or sixth OWI offenders can be fined up to $25,000 and imprisoned for up to 10 years. The minimum sentence is $600 and six months incarceration.

An average of 438 people per year are sentenced to probation for fifth or sixth offense drunk driving. Assuming that all those people would go to prison under the new bill, the proposal would add an estimated 639 inmates to the state's already jam-packed facilities, DOC said in the estimate.

The estimate includes $1.6 million for new substance abuse disorder programs to serve the additional inmates. Those programs would require an additional 23 full-time staff position.

"These costs do not include remodeling/reconstruction costs that may be needed to create the kind of program spaces that are needed," DOC said.

Because the adult prison system is at capacity, the estimate assumes DOC would step up its contracts with local jails to house prison inmates. The agency would require an additional $12 million per year for the contracts if all 639 inmates were held in jails, according to the estimate.

The Department, in a separate estimate, said that criminalizing first offense drunk driving would cost about $3 million annually to provide supervision, electronic monitoring, and substance use disorder programming. That is just DOC's cost - fiscal estimates for courts, prosecutors, and public defenders are not yet available. 

A bill pending in the Legislature would make first offense drunk driving a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500, up to 30 days incarceration, and / or two years probation.

The estimate assumes that 13,970 people will be found guilty of first offense drunk driving during the year, and that 1,097 of those people would be placed on one year of probation. The probation rolls would permanently swell by that number about a year after the bill's enactment.


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