Important Things About House Arrest That You Need to Know
Whenever we hear of a celebrity getting arrested for a relatively petty crime, if it is the first offense they are likely to be let off free, but if it happens often, they may be sentenced to house arrest. Some of the more famous cases of this are Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton who both were held under house arrest while awaiting their trials in the 2000s, Paris also got house arrest when she got out of prison as part of her sentencing. However, house arrest isn’t as easy as it sounds and may have some negative effects on a person's life that are worse than serving jail time.
What is House Arrest?
House arrest is a punitive measure of incarceration that is used by the court system as alternative sentencing to prison or as part of a commuted sentence. This is often done in the case where the crime is not so heinous as to waste room in prisons which are often overcrowded and underfunded. While in popular culture the vision of house arrest is usually portrayed as being confined in one's home 24/7, oftentimes the court will allow the person who is under house arrest to go to work, shop school and other court-approved activities.
House arrest has a long history, with the first recorded cases having occurred in the 17th century. In the 1600’s political opponents were often sentenced to house arrest, a well-known example of this was Galileo, the man who was put on trial for saying that the sun and not earth was the center of the universe and was sentenced by the Inquisition of the church to imprisonment in his home for the rest of his life. However, house arrest only became common after the invention of the tracking bracelet and was used in the US for the first time in 1983.
House arrest is not only used as sentencing but can also be used by the courts as a condition of bail. Bernie Madoff, for example, was released on 10 million dollars bail and house arrest before his trial. In most cases, when someone is under house arrest they are being monitored by a company and usually have an electronic bracelet on the arm or leg. This is used in order to track where the detainee is at all times in order to see that he/she is in the places that are allowed to them.
Who is Eligible for House Arrest?
While the conditions that are in place on when house arrest is available vary based on the state and current situation of the jails, there are usually a number of factors that are similar across state lines. The conditions are usually if you are a low-risk offender of a non-violent crime who was sentenced to the county jail and your place of residence is within or near that county. The judge who sentenced you also has to agree that you are eligible for house arrest. If you have a medical condition or are disabled, you are more likely to be eligible for house arrest as jail time would have a number of complications.
The judge can also only allow someone house arrest if the offense committed has no minimum amount of jail time, and that the safety of the community of the offender will not be put in jeopardy because he/she is allowed to remain there.
Important Things to Know About House Arrest
You'll have to pay but it is a lot cheaper than prison. Prisons can cost around 20,000 dollars a year but a house arrest can cost 6,000. On average the cost of imprisonment is around six times higher than the cost of electronic monitoring.
You will have to pay a weekly or monthly fee towards the operating costs of your monitoring service. This cost includes covering the cost of the ankle monitor as well. The ankle monitors are worn around your ankle and are tamper-proof. Some ankle bracelets have added features such as microphones which allow the monitoring service to listen in on any conversations you may have, some bracelets have built-in drug and alcohol testing that will alert your probation officers when you ingest something that is not allowed.
You won’t have the option of getting out for good behavior. While in jail people often get off early if they have been good in during their sentence when you are under house arrest you don’t have this option. For example, if you are sentenced to 60 days in prison you may get out after 30 for good behavior, but if you are sentenced to 60 days of house arrest you will have to serve it all.
Similar to parole, if you break any of the terms of your house arrest you can be arrested at once and sent to jail for the rest of your sentence. According to a Department of Justice study conducted in Florida, they have uncovered some interesting things about house arrest, mainly that electronic monitoring reduces recidivism. Recidivism is the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend.
Being under house arrest can negatively affect family life while remaining at home is arguably better than going to prison, there are some effects of house arrest that do not exist in prison. One of these effects is a shame. While in prison, everyone there except the staff is a convicted criminal, while when someone is under house arrest they need to walk around with a bracelet which is often visible and has been compared to the A for adulterer in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book The Scarlet Letter. People under house arrest say they were unable to hold a job because their bosses were scared customers would see the bracelets.
Finally, in most cases, someone under house arrest is subject to random drug testing, and in many cases is not allowed to have friends over to his home. You will also have to regularly report to your assigned probation officer, similarly to the probationary period one has after being released from jail. It is always important to speak with a lawyer when looking at the possibility of jail time or house arrest to get a legal opinion.