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 House Arrest FAQS 

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Michael Santos

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People get house arrest if the court thinks it’s consistent with the fair administration of justice and saves taxpayers’ resources.


There are many questions about the availability of house arrest and how criminal offenders can get placed on house arrest (sometimes called home detention or home confinement) in place of jail or prison. 

House arrest, home detention, or home confinement post-incarceration, after a prison sentence in the state or federal systems, is already underway, is not covered in this blog. For post-incarceration federal home confinement, click on the blog from Prison Professors:

Home Confinement Explained

The availability of house arrest as an alternative sentence is different in the federal system versus state systems.

Generally, house arrest, home detention, or home confinement means a person can remain at home instead of going to jail or prison, but their mobility will be limited. House arrest is usually a much better option than prison or jail. House arrest is more comfortable and allows more freedom.

House arrest is an option for a sentencing court depending on specific statutes and crimes. It is also up to a sentencing judge’s discretion in certain situations where the judge might consider probation as too light but jail as too severe. 

Discussion: What Is House Arrest?

House arrest involves confinement to a person’s primary residence rather than prison (or juvenile detention). House arrest often allows people to earn income, maintain family and other relationships, and attend necessary probation appointments and substance abuse treatment. House arrest includes curfews, requiring people to get home by a particular time.

For those claiming house arrest is a too easy way to do time, house arrest has a lot of restrictions and is meant to be confining. While often reserved for the first time, nonviolent offenders, it is still a legitimate form of punishment designed to keep people from adopting a criminal lifestyle.

Although not always, house arrest often requires an ankle bracelet to monitor a person’s movements. A third-party provider handles the ankle monitor and can detect whether a person leaves the approved premises or attempts tampering. Sometimes, the person has to pay for the expenses associated with ankle monitoring. 


Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about house arrest.

What Exactly Is House Arrest?

House arrest is a criminal sentence to time at home, under close surveillance, rather than serving a typical jail sentence for nonviolent offenders. Home imprisonment is often used in areas where prisons are already overcrowded or underfunded.

Is House Arrest 24/7?

House arrest does not confine a person to their home 24/7. People on house arrest are often allowed to go to work or school, go to church or other religious gatherings, as well doctors and medical appointments. Therapy appointments are also typically allowed. In some cases, people on house arrest can get permission to work and go to school, attend religious services, and go to medical appointments. 

Why Do People Get House Arrest?

People can get placed on house arrest at sentencing (or bail hearing) when the court thinks it is consistent with the fair administration of justice and would save resources for the federal or state government. 

In every sentencing, the goal is to administer a reasonable punishment, protect public safety, reserve jail space for more serious offenders, reduce the potential criminogenic effects of incarceration, and help rehabilitate the offender.

In one of the most common scenarios for imposing house arrest, a person is awaiting trial; the judge has reason to believe there is some flight risk, but not enough to warrant jail pending trial.

A less common scenario for house arrest is punishment, where the offender could get probation, but the judge and prosecutors want a more robust form of punishment than probation. In such cases, the judge may include house arrest.

House arrest plays a role for compassionate reasons too. For example, sometimes the offender is ill and needs treatment that would not be readily available in jail or prison or when the offender is terminal.

What Is The Purpose Of Home Detention or House Arrest?

The purpose of home detention or house arrest is to restrict an individual’s freedom to the home as a way to punish, rehabilitate, or protect the community. 

Sometimes, house arrest or home detention includes electronic monitoring. Electronic monitoring involves using a technological device to verify that offenders are at designated locations at specified times.

Home detention or house arrest is a sentence that can have both punitive and rehabilitation goals. Home detention is favored in many cases as it allows people to seek employment, pay back fines and restitution while working, render community service hours, attend required programs recommended by the court, and maintain their family and community ties. 

Can A Federal Judge Sentence You To House Arrest?

A federal judge can sentence people to house arrest under the right circumstances. If the federal judge has the discretion to depart downward, the judge can impose house arrest or home detention.

How Can I Get House Arrest?

People want to get house arrest instead of jail or prison when some confinement method is inevitable. A person can request house arrest at a bail hearing or sentencing. The criteria sentencing judges consider to evaluate a request for house arrest instead of jail or prison include such factors as the person’s criminal history, history of violence, family support at home, and employment history.

What Crimes Get House Arrest?

Crimes that can get house arrest include nonviolent, white-collar crimes such as fraud or embezzlement. Examples of crimes that could warrant house arrest include other nonviolent white-collar crimes like shoplifting or bad checks. In such cases, house arrest can be a cost-effective way of punishing people who pose no threat of violence to others and do not need to go to prison at taxpayers’ expense.

Is House Arrest Better Than Jail?

House arrest is better than jail or prison because of, among other things, access to family, own bed, clothes, and food provisions. In many cases, people also have access to work outside the home, see their medical doctors, and attend some religious services in their community with permission from their supervisors.

Can You Leave Your House While On House Arrest?

In most cases, a person can leave the house while on house arrest with permission from the court or probation. Specifically permitted are court dates, meetings with probation, meetings with lawyers, doctors’ appointments, religious services, and other appointments as needed.

Can You Drink On House Arrest?

People are not allowed to drink or use drugs during house arrest or home confinement, even if their underlying crime did not involve substance abuse. Moreover, a person’s drug and alcohol testing frequency can be increased when there is a history of substance abuse. People on house arrest or home detention are subject to routine and random urine analysis. Failing requisite drug tests can land people in jail or prison.

Can You Have Visitors On House Arrest?

Yes, as long as the visits and visitors follow the supervision agency’s guidelines, people can have visitors on house arrest. Under house arrest, offenders must remain at home with specific allowances for religious services, medical emergencies, and treatment. Offenders are not allowed to shop, work or have visitors outside specified hours.

How Do They Track You On House Arrest?

Probation and halfway house staff from the federal or state agencies can track people on house arrest with surprise visits at home or work site, landline phone calls (not cellphone), and electronic monitoring

sur[rise visits and electronic monitoring with phones and/or ankle monitors. 

How Far Can You Go On An Ankle Bracelet?

Depending on the specific technology, people can go as far as 50 feet to 150 feet away from the ankle monitor base. The base sits at the location of the landline telephone box in the house. If a person strays more than 150 feet from the base and has no permission from probation to be away from the house, the monitoring company can alert probation officers or law enforcement that the person has made an unauthorized leave.

What Crimes Get An Ankle Monitor?

Generally, it is up to sentencing judges, prison staff, and probation officers who supervise offenders, to qualify people for an ankle monitor. Some criminal statutes specifically allow for house arrest as a possible sentence, but it still falls on the supervisory staff to approve the conditions of house arrest, such as ankle monitors. 

Do Ankle Bracelets Record Conversations?

Some ankle bracelets can hear people’s conversations because they have built-in microphones that can listen to and potentially record conversations. Most states have not adopted ankle monitors with listening devices. Only Illinois, Indiana, and Puerto Rico are rumored to use them so far.

Do Ankle Monitors Have Microphones?

Some ankle monitors have built-in microphones that can listen to and even record conversations if enabled. Still, most ankle monitors do not have microphones, and those that do may not be permitted to record. For good reason: others who are not under criminal supervision but interact with the person wearing the ankle monitor can have their privacy rights violated if recorded without their consent. 

Can You Be On House Arrest Without An Ankle Bracelet?

House arrest with or without an ankle bracelet is up to the court, bureau of prisons, or probation supervisors and staff at a halfway house. People would prefer house arrest without an ankle bracelet but accommodate the monitor, of course, in exchange for the privilege to be at home. 

How Much Does It Cost For House Arrest?

The cost for house arrest is primarily the $6000/year it costs to pay for electronic monitoring. Thousands of people wear ankle bracelets on house arrest while serving time. One of the primary reasons for having people on house arrest with electronic monitoring is the savings for the criminal justice system. Published estimates on the cost of house arrest electronic monitoring indicate that it can run about $6,000 each year versus a year of incarceration in a state or federal prison, which is more than $23,000.

Do All Ankle Monitors Have GPS?

Some ankle monitors have GPS, and others do not. 

Do Ankle Monitors Detect Drugs?

SCRAM is an ankle device that tests sweat and detects whether someone has been drinking alcohol and, if so, the level of alcohol. Separate from electronic monitoring, some law enforcement agencies use drug patches to detect marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin. These are separate from the ankle monitors and do not track people’s movements.

SCRAM bracelets work by monitoring the wearer’s perspiration every 30 minutes. A SCRAM bracelet detects alcohol on the surface of a person’s skin in the ankle monitor area. When a person drinks alcohol, the alcohol metabolizes and emits as sweat through skin pores.

So if the question is, “Can a SCRAM bracelet detect drugs?” the short answer is no. Despite this, do not be encouraged to take drugs while on probation.

Can You Take A Shower With A House Arrest Bracelet?

Yes, people can take a shower with an ankle bracelet on during house arrest. House arrest ankle bracelets are waterproof items that can withstand high water pressure levels. People can bathe or swim while wearing the ankle monitor without damaging it or interrupting its GPS tracking system. However, monitoring agencies advise that people should not submerge their ankle monitors underwater for very long periods.

Can You Exercise With An Ankle Monitor?

Most wearers should be able to exercise with an ankle monitor without any significant problems. However, some ankle monitors cannot be submerged in water for very long. Depending on the person’s specific monitoring device, they may be discouraged from swimming or taking long baths. No doubt, ankle monitors are constraining. A person wearing an ankle monitor will feel the device’s presence and weight, and many ankle monitors also have to be charged at an outlet at least once per day.

How Often Do You Have To Charge Your Monitor, And For How Long Each Time?

People on GPS monitoring have to charge their monitors for about 2 hours each day. People using the old school electronic monitoring ankle bracelet that works through a landline phone without GPS need a periodic battery change, approximately every six months.

Violating Ankle Monitor Rules

Ankle monitor violations can lead a person to get arrested. Violating specific ankle monitor rules, such as going outside the allowed perimeter, will immediately alert the monitoring company of the violation. Some monitors immediately send an alert when a person consumes alcohol. Other ankle monitor rules include no tampering or cutting the strap, banging the device, or submerging the ankle monitor in water. 

What Happens During House Arrest?

During house arrest, people are to remain at home and are not allowed some forms of communication. Sometimes, people are allowed to live with a relative who can handle tasks like grocery shopping and provide other assistance so that the person on house arrest has minimal reasons to leave the house.

 Can A Person Leave The House While On House Arrest? 

The house arrest ankle bracelet works within a specific range of the home, so if an emergency such as a fire occurs, the individual could walk outside onto a lawn. Still, if the person travels too far, police officers go to the home. If a true emergency causes a person to stray too far away from the house, the person should know to call their probation officer immediately and receive instructions.

How Does Ankle Monitor With Landline Work?

House arrest ankle bracelets require cellular or landline networks to send the signals to the probation officer. The landline or cellular networks can stop working in some cases due to a storm, hurricane, or earthquake.


House arrest is a very viable alternative to incarceration for many people in the criminal justice system. Sentencing judges consider it when the conduct warrants more than probation but does not necessarily warrant confinement in a jail or prison. Utilizing house arrest, home confinement, or home detention saves tens of thousands of dollars per person per year and reduces prison overcrowding and mass incarceration.

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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