House arrest, or home confinement, is a form of detention used by both federal and state governments. Home confinement is used in pretrial settings as well as in parole and probation after a trial or plea agreement. The terms of the house arrest vary depending on the situation, including the severity of the crime, the custom of the prosecuting agency and the prior behavior of the arrestee.
The most restrictive form of house arrest at the federal level is home incarceration. This is intended to replicate a prison sentence, requiring the prisoner to be at home at all times except for pre-approved situations such as medical appointments, court appearances or work. In some cases, visitors and guests may not be allowed and telephone use can be limited to the parole officer, family and work.
A somewhat more lenient version of home incarceration, home detention gives the prisoner greater freedom. Excusable reasons to leave home during home detention include religious practice, work, school, court appearances and other court-ordered obligations such as community service. During home detention, a prisoner will be regularly visited by her parole officer and remain subject to restrictions on guests and phone use.
The most lenient form of house arrest is curfew. Under this program, the individual can be out of the house for any reason during certain times, but must be back within the home during certain curfew periods. The flexibility of the house arrest system allows well-behaved parolees to be granted increasingly permissive conditions until they reach curfew and eventually regain their freedom.
The key to the success of house arrest is the ability to monitor the location of the detainees by electronic means. Typically this means wearing an electronic ankle bracelet that emits a radio frequency that is picked up by a receiving device installed in the home phone. The individual must remain within 150 feet of the receiver to stay in range. Electronic surveillance allows around-the-clock monitoring, but does not indicate where a prisoner has gone if he leaves the range of the receiver.
Despite the ability to monitor the prisoner electronically, the parole officer continues to play a crucial role in house arrest. The officer checks the electronic bracelet regularly to ensure it functions properly and has not been tampered with. The officer can also track the individual when she is out of the range of the monitoring device and ensure that she actually is at the approved locations such as work or church. This can be done with a hand-held monitoring device called a "drive-by," which enables the officer to verify the prisoner's presence at a specific location without leaving his car.