What Is House Arrest & How Does It Work?

Updated April 16, 2024
6 min read
What Is House Arrest & How Does It Work?

In the American justice system, several different types of sentences are used by the courts, varying in degree of severity and depending on the crime committed. House arrest is given to some offenders as an alternative to jail or prison time. 

When ordered to stay under house arrest, convicted individuals must stay confined to a particular location and wear an electronic monitoring device to ensure they abide by the terms of confinement. 

If you or a loved one is facing sentencing, you may be asking what house arrest is. Find answers here to your questions about house arrest in the US, including what it is and how it works.

How Does House Arrest Work?

For a house arrest sentence to be issued, the criminal prosecutor usually files a recommendation with the judge, who will determine whether a house arrest ankle monitor is suitable. Generally, a house arrest sentence will only be given to first-time offenders considered low-risk criminals. 

Moreover, as offenders remain an integral part of society, this penalty is only handed out for nonviolent crimes when the convicted person poses minimal risk to the community. Examples include individuals convicted of fraud or embezzlement. On the other hand, house arrest bracelets will never be offered for serious crimes, such as rape or murder.

During sentencing, a house arrest agreement will be determined. Each US state has its statutes and guidelines regarding using ankle bracelets, house arrest, and the requirements that go with them. Therefore, the restrictions will vary on a state-by-state basis. In addition, the crime details can impact the house arrest rules, with more freedom being offered to lower-risk criminals. However, most house arrest rules are standard, including the following:

  • Probation officer: Each offender must be assigned a probation officer whose job is to monitor the offender and check that they follow the terms of the sentence. As part of this compliance, the offender must attend regular meetings with the probation officer. The officer may also conduct surprise visits to ensure all rules are followed.

  • Drugs & alcohol: During home detention, the offender must abstain from alcohol and nonprescription drug use. The probation officer has the right to check the offender’s home for prohibited substances and reports to the court if any drugs or alcohol are found on the premises. The offender must also submit to random drug testing when requested.

  • GPS ankle bracelet: While on house arrest, the offender must wear an electronic tag or bracelet containing a GPS device that continually monitors their location. The monitoring device must be worn at all times, inside the home or away, for pre-approved activities like working or attending classes or meetings.

  • Evening curfew: An evening curfew will be issued, after which time the offender must be within the specified confinement location. The curfew may vary case-by-case depending on the offender’s responsibilities. An offender hired to work an evening shift will have a later curfew than someone who works 9 am to 5 pm.

In addition to the above, house arrest sentencing often includes required community service hours. In this case, you may need a community service form. Once the terms are agreed to, any breach or violation could result in jail time for the offender.

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Can I Leave My Home At All While Under House Arrest?

The term “house arrest” can be misleading. The offender can generally leave home while under house arrest despite the implication of complete home confinement. However, the reason for leaving the residence must have been discussed and pre-approved. 

When leaving home, the offender must keep the monitoring device on. A set location for the activity must be given to ensure the offender’s location and activity can be accurately managed. After the permitted activity, such as a shift at work, the individual must return home immediately. Additionally, these permitted excursions can only occur during set hours each day. Visiting even pre-approved locations outside curfew would be classified as a breach.

Some examples of commonly approved reasons for leaving home while under house arrest include attending:

  • Places of work or education;

  • All medical appointments;

  • Counseling and therapy appointments;

  • Meetings with probation officers;

  • Community service duties;

  • Drug testing;

  • Church or another place of worship.

The above list is not exhaustive. Occasionally, more freedom of movement will be issued. These and other potential reasons will be discussed case-by-case and are not guaranteed.

However, some home arrest sentences carry more restrictions. The most severe form of home confinement is “house incarceration” rather than house arrest. If an offender is given this sentence, they will be restricted to staying home 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The only time this person can leave would be to attend court appearances or medical appointments.

What Happens if I Violate the Terms of House Arrest?

Upon violation of any of the terms of house arrest, convicted individuals will receive some form of punishment. Authorities can easily tell when breaches occur due to the GPS monitoring the offender’s location. The device will notify authorities when leaving home for anything other than a pre-approved appointment or activity. The device can detect tampering or attempted removal, which is also considered a house arrest violation.

For minor breaches, the probation officer may issue a warning. However, violating any conditions of house detention can result in immediate arrest and a court order. The judge will then decide on an appropriate punishment, usually through the probation officer’s recommendation.

The penalties are entirely dependent on the type of violation. An adjusted curfew or a limitation on pre-approved activities may be suitable for minor violations. The court may also be more forgiving if the offender broke the terms for an urgent situation, such as a family medical emergency. However, any breach could lead to the offender serving the remainder of their sentence in jail or prison.

How Long Can House Arrest Last?

The time a person is on house arrest depends on the crime committed. The sentence may be only for two weeks for lesser crimes, whereas for more serious offenses, it could see the offender under home detention for twelve months. For pretrial house arrest, the order will only last until the trial ends and an official sentence, if applicable, has been given.

Conclusions

What is house arrest? House arrest, or home detention, restricts a person’s movements away from home through a monitoring system. A sentence of house arrest is typical in the US for first-time, non-violent offenses as an alternative to jail time. 

House arrest helps jurisdictions save money and space in prisons. However, all home arrest sentences do come with strict terms that must be followed. If these terms are violated, the offender may have to serve the remainder of his or her sentence behind bars.

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