As prison populations continue to rise, jurisdictions around the world are looking for alternative ways to protect the general welfare of society while providing a meaningful consequence to those who decide to break the law. Home confinement is becoming a popular option because it keeps the individual confined to a specific space while providing electronic monitoring to ensure that no escape is possible.
In the United States, home confinement is used as both a sentencing alternative to formal incarceration, as well as a pre-trial bail condition for an offender that may not otherwise qualify for release. It is considered to be a form of intermediate punishment run by the county for crimes that are not considered dangerous or violent.
Any departures from the home must be pre-approved by a supervising officer. Qualifying reasons can include the need to visit a doctor, go to work, perform community service, or attend treatment programs. Some offenders may not have any of these options, forcing them to find employment at home so that they can continue to pay their bills.
There are several pros and cons of home confinement to review to determine if this policy could help other communities ease their jail overpopulation issues.
List of the Pros of Home Confinement
1. Some offenders can receive “breaks” from their home confinement.
Many people have the assumption that a sentence of home confinement means that it is like being in jail, but you are kept at home. Although some people do need to be there all day, every day because of the crime they committed, this is not always the case for some violations. Depending on the unique circumstances of the case, including a review of the individual’s criminal record and the severity of the crime, some judges may allow for a “break” in the confinement to occur.
Some people sentenced to home confinement can go to work, doctors’ appointments, school, and other court-approved activities. There might be a curfew in place to govern personal actions during these activities, and there is an expectations that you return directly home after an allowed activity, but you aren’t stuck twiddling your thumbs.
2. Electronic tracking ensures compliance with this program.
When someone is sentenced to home confinement, then they must wear an electronic tracking device, usually around the ankle, which indicates where they are at any given time. The information from the monitor or transmitter is then sent to local law enforcement officials who are tasked with responding to an incident should an alarm from the system begin to sound. A supervising officer makes periodic contact with the individual as well to ensure compliance with the terms of the sentence.
There might not be as much direct supervision of a convicted offender when home confinement is being used for the sentence, but that doesn’t mean the individual remains completely unsupervised in the comfort of their home.
3. The offender must pay for the monitoring services.
House arrest is much cheaper for a local court system to manage when compared to the cost of putting someone in jail. It can cost more than $20,000 per year to keep someone in jail, even if that person is awaiting trial and hasn’t been convicted of a crime. Jurisdictions that allow for a person to be confined at home can save over $14,000 per year. Most offenders must pay a portion, if not all, of the cost of the program.
Under most systems, individuals sentenced to home confinement must pay a weekly or monthly stipend toward the cost of their monitoring device and the monitoring services that are mandated by the court. The actual price varies by jurisdiction. Some of them have a set price that everyone receives, while others see a sliding scale cost based on their ability to pay.
4. There is a lot of flexibility in the home confinement structure.
Home confinement is a sentencing option, a holding option, and it provides flexibility in other areas of the criminal justice system as well. It isn’t just for after someone has been convicted of a crime and sentenced. Bernie Madoff was released on $10 million bail after being accused of defrauding investors out of billions of dollars, but one of the conditions of his release was home confinement.
This option also works for a variety of age groups. Juveniles can be sentenced to home confinement as a way to enforce the learning lessons that the court wants them to use to encourage rehabilitation. It is also a way to manage individuals with challenging medical conditions without straining the resources of the prison community.
5. You can still go to jail if you violate your home confinement.
If an offender decides to violate the rules of their home confinement, then you can be immediately arrested and sent to jail. Some courts may even require that you serve the rest of your sentence in captivity if you violate the terms of your initial sentencing. The rules and regulations involving house arrest can vary widely around the country, but it is generally an alternative to consider or petition for as an alternative to jail. If you find yourself in this situation, then you will want to speak with an experienced local criminal defense attorney to see if there is any help that they could provide.
6. It is an option which is generally reserved for those who commit non-violent crimes.
If an individual is convicted of a serious crime, such as a sex offense or a robbery, then they will be likely serving their time in prison instead of under house arrest. The individuals who qualify for this program are usually first-time offenders that have never spent any time in jail or prison before. If someone is on parole, or serving a felony probation period, then they are generally not eligible for this service.
Having these rules in place might make it more difficult for a judge to use a home confinement sentence, but it can also be an effective way to keep those who are not likely to re-offend away from those who have no desire to rehabilitate themselves.
7. There are a variety of terms and conditions that the individual must meet.
Home confinement does not involve twiddling your thumbs at home while you watch television. The court will order that you comply with a series of rules that are based on the individual circumstances of the case. That means there might be random drug testing, in-office meetings that are face-to-face, surprise home visits, and other stipulations that must be met. Failing to meet the terms and conditions that are part of the sentencing process could cause the individual to serve the rest of their time in jail instead.
8. There are two different options available for use with modern home confinement.
When house arrest was used in the past, there might be a security guard, police officer, or another law enforcement official would be stationed to supervise the individual. Now there are two different options that are used for electronic monitoring that help to enforce the orders of a court. Most jurisdictions use either a radio frequency transmission or a global positioning system device to ensure that the individual is where they are supposed to be.
There are several other options available to communities as well, but the RFT and GPS systems tend to be the most popular because of how affordable they tend to be. Law enforcement can set up specific exclusion zones, tracking, and mapping to know the whereabouts of an offender at any given time.
9. It allows an offender to care for a family member.
Home confinement is an option that allows offenders who have family members who rely on them to stay at home. If a single parent were sentenced to prison, then their children would be placed into a different home – or even the foster care system. If you care for a dependent and there is no other option available to your family, then this option might be considered for a term longer than 12 months.
Being on home confinement allows you to clean up any loose ends that would not be possible if you were to receive a longer sentence.
10. Individuals have more choices when they are on home confinement.
If you find yourself in prison, then the number of choices available to you are minimal. You’re told when to get up, where to work, and even what you can eat during the day. A sentence of home confinement is a little different, allowing you to eat what you want, watch your own TV, and even manage your sleep schedule. Visitors can come by at almost any time, although a curfew might be in place that limits contact after a specific time.
List of the Cons of Home Confinement
1. Offenders don’t have access to good behavior or time credits.
When you are sentenced to home confinement in most jurisdictions, then the ability to be at home instead of in a prison cell is considered to be a special privilege. That means you don’t have the same options available for an early release, time reductions for good behavior, or other incentives to reduce the length of your sentence. You must spend the entire time under house arrest if you are sentenced to this outcome.
Some jurisdictions may allow for some offenders to see a reduction in their sentence or be given more privileges if there are no violations of the sentencing terms to home confinement, but this would be an uncommon outcome.
2. It is only one tool to use for sentencing and doesn’t solve every problem.
Critics of home confinement programs point out that the electronic monitoring services are not a substitute for an expanded use of supervised parole or probation. The technologies that are used to enforce this sentencing order do not prevent further crime, nor does it reduce the overall rate of criminal activity. This alternative to jail time may not even rehabilitate offenders, which means it may not be the answer to prison overcrowding issues that are present in some communities.
3. Some people are ineligible for home confinement services.
Every county has specific rules as to who is eligible for home confinement as an alternative to prison. In most circumstances, you must meet a variety of specific conditions in order to be eligible for this option. It starts with being a low-risk, non-violent offender. The individual cannot be prohibited from the program by the sentencing judge. In some situations, there may be a requirement that you are sentenced to a county jail. Then these additional qualifications may need to be met before the program will be considered.
- You have a residence in or near the county where you were sentenced.
- There is a phone that you can use inside of the residence.
- You agree to the conditions of home confinement and can pay for it.
4. Some offenders have the ability to tamper with the device.
The devices that offenders wear during their house arrest have alarms and alerts that they send out whenever an irregularity is detected with the wearing experience. If you were to try to tamper with the system, then it would let the supervising officer know that there is a potential violation happening. It would also sound if the offender were to enter an exclusion zone based on the maps laid out for the project.
Some offenders have developed the ability to tamper with their system to make it seem like they are home when they are not. This disadvantage means that the community would not be safe because there would be no way to verify the location of the individual sentenced to home confinement.
5. It can lead to more isolation for the individual.
Offenders who receive home confinement as a sentence may find themselves with no human contact outside of their supervising officer. Although friends and family can usually stop at the home to visit, there may be sentencing rules that forbid such an action. If you are in a community by yourself without many connections, then this criminal justice option can essentially become solitary confinement.
The facts about solitary confinement confirm that it can fit the definition of torture according to information published by the United Nations Convention Against Torture. In 2011, it was listed as a method of confinement that is cruel, inhuman, or degrading when used as a punishment, even if it’s for a pre-trial detention.
6. Home confinement is traditional a method used to stop political resistance.
The historical concept of home confinement was used as a way to quell political resistance because repressive governments could weaken their opponent’s ties to the rest of the world. It would also allow them to know where their “enemy” was at all times. The practice is now widespread thanks to electronic monitoring, offering an ever-expanding range of purposes that can keep people out of prison, but still turn their home into a jail. It places more people under state control where they otherwise would not be under regular circumstances.
7. There are questions about legal rights and home confinement.
When an individual is in prison, the loss of their civil liberties becomes apparent almost immediately. There are strip searches, cell sweeps, and communications surveillance at almost all times. If a home confinement sentence is an option, then those on probation or being monitored for other reasons are subject to a warrantless search at any time, drug tests, and other privacy invasions. The supervising officer even has ready access to the property without a way to prevent entry.
8. Home confinement doesn’t come with the same rules for care.
Home confinement places the need for care in the hands of the offender instead of it being the responsibility of the county or the state. There are daily quotas for calories and a mandate for outdoor exercise time if a convicted offender is in prison – even if the facilities and food are less than desirable. These rules do not apply under house arrest. There is not even a guarantee to have access to legal materials for their case.
Verdict on the Pros and Cons of Home Confinement
There are times when a lengthy prison sentence does not make sense. When first-time offenders go to prison, then their recidivism rates rise because they are in the presence of violent criminals. That is why the benefits of home detention are considered for people who fit into a specific profile.
There are multiple ways to track individuals on house arrest. It is different than home incarceration since the individual might have a curfew, ankle bracelet, and a separate monitor that plugs directly into a landline. If the monitor doesn’t sense the bracelet, it sends an alarm to the supervising individual.
The pros and cons of home confinement can help counties to save money because it is cheaper than prison, and the offender pays for a portion (or all) of the serves. It usually applies to shorter sentences, usually 12 months or less, and can help the individual to care for their family, get into therapy, or take the other steps which are necessary for a successful experience.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.