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What Is House Arrest and How Does It Work?

House arrest works as an option for both awaiting a trial and as a sentence. That means that your options for awaiting trial aren’t just paying bail or waiting in jail; you may also be assigned to house arrest instead. Additionally, instead of a traditional prison sentence, you could potentially serve your sentence from the confines of your home. However, house arrests are typically reserved for non-violent, less dangerous criminals. To better understand house arrest, it’s best to outline the types of house arrest, how it works, who qualifies, what life is like while under house arrest, and more.

What Is House Arrest?

Obviously, house arrest is when someone is confined to their home, generally because they have been accused or convicted of a crime. Broadly speaking, there are three types of house confinement: curfew, home confinement, and home incarceration. Curfew is the least restrictive of the three, meaning that someone must be in their home and remain there for a certain period of time every day. Home confinement steps it up a little and restricts them most of the time, with certain exceptions, such as work, school, religious services, shopping for food, and medical care. These exceptions will be unique in each circumstance and will be decided upon beforehand by the judge. Stricter than that is home incarceration, or house arrest, which confines them to their home all of the time, but likely allowing for medical care or court-ordered therapy sessions. However, for most legal purposes, house arrest is generally just referred to as house confinement.

These will also be divided by the purpose of the confinement, which can be defined as: pretrial house arrest and house arrest as a sentence. In the first case, pretrial house arrest, a defendant is allowed to await trial on house arrest versus staying in jail or paying bail – or possibly even in addition to posting bail. House arrest as a sentence means that convicted defendant will serve their sentence, or perhaps the remainder of their sentence, confined to their own home, to the previously mentioned various degrees, instead of jail or prison.

Of course, this sounds like the best case scenario if you’re accused or convicted of a crime, but it’s only reserved for nonviolent crimes and misdemeanors. And it’s entirely up to the judge whether you’re the ideal candidate for this alternative form of justice – with some legal restrictions. There are benefits of giving out house arrest on the law’s side too, so they also have reason to dole out this punishment. However, many aspects of yourself, your crime, and your background will be considered when making this decision, which will be discussed in more detail later on.

How Does House Arrest Work?

When on house arrest, the defendant will likely wear an ankle monitor, which can track their location and alert the authorities when house arrest is violated, as well as if it’s being tampered with. The judge will have predetermined the space of the confinement, length of the sentence, and just how severe the restrictions are – as in, whether they have a curfew, are only confined certain days, and which exceptions they’ll be allowed to attend. They will likely also have to agree to terms similar to someone on probation, such as not partaking in drugs or alcohol, checking in when necessary, and not committing any further crimes. There may also be hefty fees that come alone with the ankle monitors, possibly even requiring the defendant to pay for the cost of the ankle monitor itself, and they are responsible for charging it and checking in with it when applicable. Violating house arrest will likely result in a hearing to evaluate the offender’s reason, and they may have to spend the rest of their sentence in jail.

Who Gets House Arrest?

If your crime is nonviolent and a misdemeanor, you are much more likely to get house arrest versus jail time than someone that committed a violent crime or a felony. There are several other factors that the judge will consider when determining if the defendant is eligible for house arrest, such as:

  • Whether this is the defendant’s first offense or if they’re a repeat offender
  • Whether the defendant is a flight risk
  • Whether the defendant will show up for all hearings and other necessary appearances
  • The defendant’s age
  • The defendant’s employment status
  • The defendant’s family and home life
  • If there were any aggravating factors involved in the crime
  • The public’s safety and best interest
  • The defendant’s safety and best interest
  • If they’re likely to commit more crimes if released
  • The defendant’s living arrangements
  • If the defendant has a history of drug abuse
  • The defendant’s health

When Can You Get House Arrest?

There are three scenarios in which a defendant will be eligible for house arrest, conditionally on those factors discussed above. The first is for pretrial confinement. That means that the defendant, during pretrial, decides to exercise their right to trial by a jury. The judge then has to decide where they will remain during the time that they’re awaiting that trial. There are a few options, namely making the defendant wait in prison, post bail, or post bail and then wait for their trial on house arrest.

The next two instances will come in the sentencing phase. Another case is when the judge determines that the defendant’s sentence will be served on house arrest instead of in jail. It’s possible this will also come with probation terms, community service, court ordered therapy, drug rehabilitation, or any other number of conditions. Additionally, the judge may sentence the defendant to serving part of their time in jail and the remainder in house confinement.

Finally, a judge may sentence the defendant to jail time, and it may be determined at some point during the defendant’s imprisonment – usually for good behavior – that they can serve the rest of their sentence on house arrest.

Advantages and Disadvantages of House Arrest

Besides the obvious of not having to be in jail, there are benefits for all involved when assigning house arrest. The first is that is keeps the jails and prisons from becoming overcrowded, saving taxpayers and private prisons a lot of money and reserving the prison space for the worse offenders. Additionally, when used as a pretrial confinement, there is reassurance that the defendant will show up for trial

The defendant will also find that their rehabilitation may be easier when allowed to be on house arrest, whether it means they never had to go to jail in the first place or were allowed a slow and steady reentrance to the real world. It’s also much easier for them to preserve employment, support themselves and their family, and maintain important relationships.

However, many will be quick to point out fears that it’s allowing criminals out in the public with the opportunity to commit more crimes. Additionally, some find that the punishment may not be severe enough according to the crime committed, and the defendant is “getting off easy.”

The First Step Act

In December of 2018, the First Step Act was signed into law, which provided criminal justice reform, primarily by giving more freedom to judges to provide lesser punishments than may be required by law, as well as reemphasizing and providing more rights allotted to those in confinement. It also had some specific changes made towards home confinement. Specifically, the First Step Act alters 18 U.S. Code § 3621, discussing imprisonment terms for convicted offenders, to include the bold text:

The authority under this subsection may be used to place a prisoner in home confinement for the shorter of 10 percent of the term of imprisonment of that prisoner or 6 months. The Bureau of Prisons shall, to the extent practicable, place prisoners with lower risk levels and lower needs on home confinement for the maximum amount of time permitted under this paragraph.

This new input encourages judges to use home confinement for the maximum amount of time, especially when allowing the offender to leave prison early, but it places the emphasis on prisoners with lower levels of risk.

Additionally, the Act encourages home confinement to be used in the cases of elderly and ill inmates. More recently, the need for home confinement during the pandemic of COVID-19 has been recognized, as the law allows for greater home confinement lengths during emergencies, and there’s been an effort to release more nonviolent inmates to prevent the spread in prisons.

State House Arrest Laws

  • Arizona: Those ineligible for house arrest in Arizona include defendants who are a danger to themselves or the community or have a history of violence – or otherwise to the judge’s discretion. If they are sentenced to house confinement, they may have to submit to electronic monitoring or checking in through the phone. They may also be prohibited from using drugs or alcohol, with testing to ensure their compliance, as well as told to avoid individuals who could get them in trouble. As far as fees go, they may have to pay up to thirty dollars every month for their electronic monitoring system. They may be allowed to leave for medical appointments, church services, or funerals, as well as employment and community service.
  • California: Those on house arrest in California agree to several rules, such as to remain in their residence during the predetermined hours, comply with visits to verify they’re adhering to the rules, and use an electronic monitoring system. They can be forced to finish their sentence in jail if the monitoring system malfunctions, supervision can’t perform their duties, they leave their residence without permission, or for failure to pay fees for the monitoring system. The offender can be arrested by their peace officer if it’s believed that any of this has occurred. However, they may be allowed to leave their residence to seek or maintain employment, attend school, and attend psychiatric, medical, or dental treatment.
  • Connecticut: Here, after a hearing where good reason is presented, house arrest can be extended or elevated, and defendants may have to pay up to six dollars a day for their electronic monitoring program. Connecticut’s law allows the judge to provide a large number of conditions on a house confinement. This may include that they must:
    • Maintain employment or go to school
    • Attend certain medical or psychiatric treatments
    • Make all child support payments
    • Fulfill all financial and other obligations for family
    • Pay restitution when applicable
    • If a minor, stay in parent’s home or suitable foster home
    • Post bail
    • Not commit any other crimes
    • Stay in a halfway house
    • Do community service
    • Register as a sex offender when applicable
    • Complete other programs or activities for rehabilitation purposes
  • Florida: Florida refers to house arrest as a type of community control, and it may come with community-based sanctions, such as paying restitutions, suspension or revocation of their driver’s license, community service, and varying degrees of home confinement. They will also be assigned a supervisor to ensure they are meeting all of the requirements of their community control plan. Additionally, they may enter a program for mental health treatment or be required to pay a fine.
  • Missouri: In Missouri, it can be required that someone on house arrest attend work, school, and treatments, as well as fulfill their supervision requirements. Outside of leaving for these purposes, the offender can be arrested for violating their house arrest conditions, and they may not be able to post bail. As far as financial obligations, the house arrestee must pay a percentage of their income to fund the house arrest program.
  • Nebraska: Nebraska law allows for anyone convicted of a misdemeanor, felony, contempt, or nonpayment that has a jail sentence to serve all or some of their time on house arrest. They may be allowed to leave for employment or educational, medical, or other court approved reasons and may be monitored by an electronic monitoring system. Most counties require those eligible to:
    • Have a working landline phone (some may allow a cell phone now)
    • Have a verifiable residence in either the county or a nearby county
    • Not be convicted of a violent or sexual crime
    • Not be convicted of a crime involving minors
    • Not be a registered sex offender
  • Oregon: Judges in Oregon will consider the severity of the crime, the defendant’s criminal background, the public’s safety, deterrence, and the available space and resources in jail and the house arrest program.
  • Texas: In Texas, a judge can assign a defendant to house arrest at any part of the criminal justice process, whether that be of their own accord or because the inmate requested it. The judge may then set conditions and a bail, and the defendant may have to pay for any costs involved with them being on home confinement, as well as the cost of the ankle monitor. If the defendant violates any part of the agreement, the judge can rule for them to be placed in jail, as well as make them still pay the cost of the home arrest program.
  • Virginia: Some cases where Virginia may give a defendant house confinement include being charged with a criminal offense, traffic offense, failure to pay child support, or being convicted of a crime with a sentence in a local or state facility. Those not eligible include those convicted of first and second degree murder, manslaughter, mob-related felonies, kidnapping felonies, violent assaults, robbery, and sexual assault. In addition to house arrest, they may be assigned to participate in employment, school, or rehabilitative programs. They allow for house arrest in pretrial cases, as an alternative to incarceration, or to finish out a sentence after serving a portion of it in jail. Violating house arrest can be a Class 1 misdemeanor, and the defendant will not be able to finish their sentence on home confinement. They can also be subject to fees for the program, as well as paying a portion of their wages.

House Arrest: Still a Punishment

Overall, if one must receive some kind of punishment, house arrest isn’t the worst sentence to receive. However, that doesn’t mean that your freedoms won’t be greatly restricted, and it’s still a severe and difficult sentence. However, for nonviolent, first time offenders, house confinement can be an excellent alternative to jail time. If you believe you may be eligible for house arrest, at any point throughout your criminal justice process, contact your lawyer to discuss it. It may be in your best interest to submit a request for reducing your sentence in this way. However, if you have been allowed to serve your sentence or await your trial on house arrest, be sure to follow all conditions set forth or risk being put into jail.

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