House arrest might seem like one of those special deals that celebrities get, and the infamous ankle bracelets are punchlines, but the reality is that house arrest is a relatively standard sentence for celebs and non-celebs alike. What’s more, you can actually request it as a sentence if you meet certain criteria.
What is house arrest, exactly?
The Department of Justice maintains a virtual library that features a fairly straightforward review of house arrest, though this outline is from 1988. It says, “House arrest is a sentence in which offenders are ordered by the court to remain confined in their residences, usually allowed to leave only for medical and employment reasons.”
A person sentenced to house arrest can leave, but only for work, a doctor, or another preauthorized, scheduled event—and only with permission. In at least 20 states, a person’s whereabouts are monitored by electronic bracelets while they’re on house arrest.
Per the DOJ, the benefits of this kind of sentence are:
- It’s responsive to community needs
- It’s responsive to individual offenders’ needs
- It’s easy to implement
- It’s timely
There are some disadvantages too, though, like its ability to widen the social-control net, not to mention its focus on surveillance over rehabilitation. Opponents also point to its intrusiveness and the racial and class bias in selection of those who is approved for house arrest.
Who can get house arrest?
Legal publisher Nolo says that some of the criteria for house arrest can include:
- Your history of offenses is not very long
- You are not considered a violent offender
- You are a juvenile offender under parental supervision
- Your employment history is good and steady
- Jail time would be too harsh for your crime, but probation is too lenient
You might notice that some of these criteria are pretty subjective. A judge will ultimately make the call on whether you qualify, but it’s worth discussing the possibility with your lawyer or public defender and requesting house arrest if you think it could be a fit for you. Keep in mind that in some cases, you’ll be required to pay a fee for the cost of electronically monitoring you while you’re serving your sentence.
Data shows that rates of electronic ankle monitoring increased during the pandemic and researchers conservatively estimate that over 130,000 people in the United States are under electronic monitoring.
What are the other downsides to house arrest?
In addition to the likelihood that you’ll have to foot the bill for your own surveillance, there are other issues to consider before requesting house arrest. Opponents point to the rise of electronic monitoring as not only an alternative punishment, but a way to keep people tethered to the carceral system for a longer time when they might otherwise serve a quicker sentence or just be on probation.
If you’re ever facing a sentencing and considering requesting house arrest, talk to your lawyer or public defender at length about what it really means in terms of cost and time.