Blog Article 

 Home Confinement Explained 

Michael Santos

Michael Santos

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Federal home confinement has expanded since Covid-19; learn the rules of the road.

Introduction to Federal Home Confinement

Generally, home confinement is another form of community confinement available for people reaching the final 12 to 18 months of their federal prison term. During the ongoing pandemic, Congress and the federal government extended the federal home confinement program to people at risk for severe illness from Covid-19 under certain conditions. Home confinement (akin to house arrest) is also available for people during the pre-trial phase of their criminal case. 

While in home confinement, a person can live at home with family members or others at an address approved by US Probation and, sometimes, also the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). For example, while a person can move on home confinement from one approved address to another, they can only move during their home confinement status after inspection and approval from a US Probation Officer (and the BOP in post-conviction cases).

What Is Considered Home Confinement?

A person placed in home confinement is, as the term suggests, physically confined to their house wearing an electronic monitoring device or GPS. In some cases, the home confinement area can include the outdoors part of the house, but it generally refers to an interior structure.

When a person is in home confinement, all of their movements in and out of the house are strictly limited and closely supervised. They must adhere to a predetermined daily schedule and cannot leave home except with permission and only for approved reasons.

The parameters of allowed movement may differ if the person is on home confinement pre-trial, while their criminal case is still pending, versus post-conviction, after pleading guilty, going into the custody of the BOP, and returning to the community. 

Qualifying For Home Confinement

How to qualify for home confinement is an important concern for people in federal prisons. Nonviolent people with a stable place to live and a landline phone have a good chance to get approved for home confinement. Qualifying for home confinement on pre-trial differs. Probation decides case-by-case.

Therefore, when people ask what some of the requirements needed at home to qualify for home confinement are, here is what both the BOP and US Probation generally look for to approve:

  • No history of violence;
  • A stable place to live, in or near the county where the person faced charges;
  • A basic, old school, landline telephone; and 
  • Ability to adhere to all the rules of supervised electronic confinement. 

Other individual factors, such as criminal history, may also play a role. Certain categories of serious or repeat offenders are not allowed to participate in home confinement. In addition to the criminal history and history of violence mentioned above, medical and mental health conditions and needs are important factors.

Federal Home Confinement Before Covid-19 

For people serving a sentence in BOP custody, the federal home confinement process has existed for decades.

Specifically, all federal prisoners must undergo a review for placement in Residential Reentry Centers (“RRCs”) when they approach the end of their sentence under the Second Chance Act and First Step Act. 

RRCs are part of the BOP, and they manage relationships with local halfway houses to provide housing and supervision to people from federal prisons returning to the community. In the ordinary course, the BOP is supposed to make every effort to review people with upcoming release dates for placement in an RRC at the earliest opportunity allowed by law. 

The RRC manages a person’s gradual transition back home from federal prison. First, a person transitions from federal prison to a local halfway house for a period of time. Then they transition to home confinement, which should lead to their release from BOP custody altogether. Finally, most federal prison sentences have a court-imposed period of supervised release, managed by US Probation. That is the typical process for home confinement. 

However, home confinement took on a whole new dimension in March 2020, when thousands of people serving time in federal prisons were released to continue serving their sentences on home confinement due to the risks of Covid-19.

 Federal Home Confinement In The Covid-19 Era

As of December 2021, the BOP has transferred over 36,000 eligible inmates to home confinement following the instructions from the Attorney General on March 26, 2020, that the BOP prioritizes home confinement as an appropriate response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Still today, the BOP continues to screen people in the federal prisons to identify those who have Covid-19 risk factors for placement in home confinement

Moreover, people do not have to apply for a release to home confinement based on Covid-19, also known as the CARES Act release. Instead, a person’s case manager at the prison reviews all files to recommend those who meet the home confinement criteria. To that end, the BOP states that it has increased resources to review and make appropriate determinations as soon as possible. BOP’s review for suitable home confinement candidates is ongoing. However, an inmate can also be proactive and request to be referred to home confinement as long as they can provide a release plan to their case manager. 

Home Confinement And House Arrest

As noted above, corrections experts define home confinement generally as “any judicially or administratively imposed a condition requiring a person to remain in their residence for all or any portion of the day.” 

Thus, whenever people have a judicial or administrative condition to remain at home for any portion of their day or face the consequences, that can be considered home confinement.   

House arrest is often used interchangeably with home confinement since a person is mandated to stay at home unless instructed otherwise in both scenarios. The difference is that house arrest is a more formally recognized alternative prison sentence doled out by a court as such. In contrast, home confinement is not a statutory sentence per se. 

However, federal courts have broad discretion at sentencing to include a period of house arrest or home confinement when they deem it appropriate. No one should doubt that a federal judge can sentence people to home confinement or house arrest, given their broad sentencing powers. 

 What exactly is house arrest? House arrest is a type of alternative sentence whereby offenders get confined to their residences under specific terms and conditions as an alternative to serving time in jail. 

As noted, people often refer to house arrest as home confinement, home detention, electronic monitoring, or supervised electronic confinement. House arrest and home confinement are alternatives to prison while awaiting trial or after sentencing.

House arrest is a serious matter. People might get house arrest when they cannot meet bail requirements, for example, or when the underlying crime allows a sentence of house arrest, among other cases. While house arrest allows people the privilege to remain at home with conditions instead of serving time in jail, failure to comply with house arrest exactly as instructed can quickly lead to jail or prison. 

What Is The Purpose Of Home Confinement?

A major purpose of home confinement is to help US Probation and Pretrial services officers supervise or monitor people during the criminal justice process, during the pre-trial phase, or post-conviction. 

During pre-trial, home confinement is an alternative to detention used to ensure community safety. In post-conviction cases, home confinement is used as punishment, a lesser punishment than prison but harsher than regular supervision.

Federal courts also use home confinement as a sanction for persons who violate the conditions of their supervision. 

Home confinement, as used in federal cases, can include curfews, home detention/confinement, or outright home incarceration:

  • Curfew rules require people to remain at home every day at certain times, but they are otherwise free to go outside the house. 
  • Home detention requires people to remain at home at all times, except for pre-approved passes for work, school, treatment, church, attorney appointments, court appearances, and other court-ordered obligations.
  • Home incarceration or house arrest requires 24-hour-a-day “lockdown” at home, except for medical appointments, court appearances, and other activities specifically approved by the Court.

Another purpose of home confinement or home detention is to assist corrections departments across the country reduce jail and prison overcrowding. 

In the end, home confinement benefits the courts because it costs much less than incarceration. Moreover, courts routinely require people on home confinement to pay for their monitoring costs. Finally, home confinement also enables people to contribute by supporting their families and paying taxes.

Role of the Halfway House

RRCs work with local halfway houses to supervise people returning from federal prisons until they complete their sentences and progress to supervised release. 

After leaving federal prison, people on home confinement remain legally in the custody of the BOP until their time on home confinement ends, and they move on to supervised release with US Probation. During their time at a halfway house or home confinement, people remain in BOP custody and must abide by BOP rules or face disciplinary actions. Serious infractions, such as curfew violations or substance abuse, can result in getting sent back to prison.  

In most cases, it is staff members of the halfway house, not US Probation officers, who oversee the activities of people on home confinement, and who implement their electronic monitoring.

Close supervision by the halfway house is a crucial component of the post-conviction home confinement program. Supervision helps deter further crime, ensure the community’s safety, and keep a fair amount of structure for people in home confinement. Halfway house staff members have to ensure that people are working or job hunting, maintaining a stable living arrangement, and not engaging in prohibited behavior such as substance abuse. Supervision requires frequent phone calls and daily accountability calls to ensure that people adhere to their approved schedules and 24/7 response to alerts from monitoring centers. Undoubtedly, monitoring and supervising people in home confinement is time-consuming and expensive.

For more detailed information about the role of the halfway house for people returning from federal prison, click:

Preparing For The Halfway House by Prison Professors


Electronic Monitoring

The individual wears a tamper-resistant transmitter on the ankle or wrist 24 hours a day with electronic monitoring. The transmitter emits a radio frequency signal detected by a receiver/dialer unit connected to the home phone. When the transmitter comes within range of the receiver/dialer unit, that unit calls a monitoring center to indicate that the person is in range or at home. The person must stay within a specified distance of the receiving unit to be in range.

While electronic monitoring detects and reports the time a person enters and exits their home, GPS makes it possible to monitor the person’s whereabouts in the community. With GPS, the individual has to carry a tracking device.

The Administrative Office of the US Courts contracts with monitoring companies to provide equipment and around-the-clock electronic and GPS surveillance to US probation and Pretrial services offices nationwide.

The monitoring centers provide daily reports documenting program participants’ activities 24 hours a day. They also track all key events and report them promptly to the officers who supervise home confinement. 

Key events include:

  • Equipment tampering.
  • Unauthorized absence from home.
  • Failure to return home after an authorized absence.
  • Leaving home early or returning home late.

Key events also may be triggered by equipment malfunctions and loss of electrical power or phone service. 

Participants must notify officers immediately if they lose electrical power or phone service, remove the transmitter because of an emergency, or experience any problems with the monitoring equipment.

Rules of Home Confinement & Home Confinement Violations

In addition to compliance with all BOP rules while on home confinement, people must abide by all the halfway house home confinement rules. Each halfway house provides residents and people they supervise with rules manual on arrival. 

Every halfway house is different but rarely do they take time to educate new arrivals individually. They provide the book. (Sometimes, people in prison can request the manual for their intended halfway house from Re-entry Services) . Bottom line? It’s up to the person under supervision to review the rules, ask questions, learn as they go. 

For people residing at home on home confinement, there are weekly or bi-weekly check-in meetings with the halfway house, random reporting for drug tests at least twice a month, and weekly TDAT program requirements for those who are RDAP graduates. Other things may come up as well. 

Among the most severe violations of the home confinement program are 

  • failing to follow the approved leave schedule; 
  • going to an unapproved location or activity; 
  • tampering with electronic monitoring equipment;
  • failing to report to the halfway house when summoned;
  • failing to return home at the end of a pass or communicate with with the halfway house on whereabouts;
  • failing drug tests, substance abuse;
  • driving without permission or without car approval;
  • failing to provide receipts as requested for shopping passes or social passes;
  • engaging in criminal behavior.

Remember, in addition to the rules of the halfway house, people on home confinement have to follow all applicable BOP rules of conduct. 


Home confinement is an important step in the process of reintegrating into the community after federal prison. A major purpose of home confinement is to help US Probation and Pretrial services officers supervise or monitor people during the criminal justice process, during the pre-trial phase, or post-conviction. 

Under the CARES Act, the federal government expanded the use of home confinement significantly to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. This experience may help the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons to continue to use home confinement more broadly for the foreseeable future. 

Prison Professors, an Earning Freedom company, works alongside (not in place of) civil and criminal defense counsel to help clients proactively navigate through investigations and prosecutions. Our team also helps clients prepare mitigation and compliance strategies.

If you have any questions or are uncertain about any of the issues discussed in this post, schedule a call with our risk mitigation team to receive additional guidance.

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