House arrest

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In justice and law, house arrest (also called home confinement, home detention, or, in modern times, electronic monitoring) is a measure by which a person is confined by the authorities to their residence. Only those with a house are allowed to be sentenced to arrest in their residence. Travel is usually restricted, if allowed at all. House arrest is an alternative to being in a prison while pretrial or sentenced.

Justice Concept of moral fairness and administration of the law

Justice, in its broadest context, includes both the attainment of that which is just and the philosophical discussion of that which is just. The concept of justice is based on numerous fields, and many differing viewpoints and perspectives including the concepts of moral correctness based on ethics, rationality, law, religion, equity and fairness. Often, the general discussion of justice is divided into the realm of social justice as found in philosophy, theology and religion, and, procedural justice as found in the study and application of the law.

Law System of rules and guidelines, generally backed by governmental authority

Law is a system of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It has been defined both as "the Science of Justice" and "the Art of Justice". Law is a system that regulates and ensures that individuals or a community adhere to the will of the state. State-enforced laws can be made by a collective legislature or by a single legislator, resulting in statutes, by the executive through decrees and regulations, or established by judges through precedent, normally in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals can create legally binding contracts, including arbitration agreements that may elect to accept alternative arbitration to the normal court process. The formation of laws themselves may be influenced by a constitution, written or tacit, and the rights encoded therein. The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in various ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people.

House Building that functions as a dwelling

A house is a building that functions as a home. They can range from simple dwellings such as rudimentary huts of nomadic tribes and the improvised shacks in shantytowns to complex, fixed structures of wood, brick, concrete or other materials containing plumbing, ventilation, and electrical systems. Houses use a range of different roofing systems to keep precipitation such as rain from getting into the dwelling space. Houses may have doors or locks to secure the dwelling space and protect its inhabitants and contents from burglars or other trespassers. Most conventional modern houses in Western cultures will contain one or more bedrooms and bathrooms, a kitchen or cooking area, and a living room. A house may have a separate dining room, or the eating area may be integrated into another room. Some large houses in North America have a recreation room. In traditional agriculture-oriented societies, domestic animals such as chickens or larger livestock may share part of the house with humans. The social unit that lives in a house is known as a household.


While house arrest can be applied to criminal cases when prison does not seem an appropriate measure, the term is often applied to the use of house confinement as a measure of repression by authoritarian governments against political dissidents. In that case, typically, the person under house arrest does not have access to any means of communication. If electronic communication is allowed, conversations will most likely be monitored. With some electronic monitoring units, the conversations of prisoners can be directly monitored via the unit itself.

Dissident person who actively challenges an established doctrine, policy, or institution

A dissident, broadly defined, is a person who actively challenges an established doctrine, policy, or institution. In a religious context, the word has been used since 18th century, and in the political sense since 1940, coinciding with the rise of totalitarian systems, especially the Soviet Union.

Telephone Telecommunications device

A telephone, or phone, is a telecommunications device that permits two or more users to conduct a conversation when they are too far apart to be heard directly. A telephone converts sound, typically and most efficiently the human voice, into electronic signals that are transmitted via cables and other communication channels to another telephone which reproduces the sound to the receiving user.


Judges have imposed sentences of home confinement, as an alternative to prison, as far back as the 17th century. Galileo was confined to his home following his infamous trial in 1633. Political authorities have often confined leaders to house arrest who were deposed in a coup d'état, but this method was not widely used to confine numerous common criminals.

Galileo affair 17th century conflict between Galileo Galilei and the Roman Catholic Church

The Galileo affair was a sequence of events, beginning around 1610, culminating with the trial and condemnation of Galileo Galilei by the Roman Catholic Inquisition in 1633 for his support of heliocentrism.

This method did not become a widespread alternative to imprisonment in the United States and other western countries until the late 20th century, when newly designed electronic monitoring devices made it inexpensive and easy to manage by corrections authorities. Although Boston was using house arrest for a variety of arrangements, the first-ever court sentence of house arrest with an electronic bracelet was in 1983. [1]


Home detention is an alternative to imprisonment; its goals are both to reduce recidivism and to decrease the number of prisoners, thereby saving money for states and other jurisdictions. It is a corrective to mandatory sentencing laws that greatly increased the incarceration rates in the United States. [2] It allows eligible offenders to retain or seek employment, maintain family relationships and responsibilities and attend rehabilitative programs that contribute towards addressing the causes of their offending.

The terms of house arrest can differ, but most programs allow employed offenders to continue to work, and confine them to their residence only during non-working hours. Offenders are commonly allowed to leave their home for specific purposes; examples can include visits to the probation officer or police station, religious services, education, attorney visits, court appearances, and medical appointments. [3] [4] Many programs also allow the convict to leave their residence during regular, pre-approved times in order to carry out general household errands, such as food shopping and laundry. Offenders may have to respond to communications from a higher authority to verify that they are at home when required to be. Exceptions are often made to allow visitors to visit the offender. [5]

Probation and Parole Officers play a role in the criminal justice systems by supervising offenders released from prison or sentenced to non-custodial sanctions such as community service. In some jurisdictions probation and parole officers are involved in presenting reports on offenders and making sentencing recommendation to courts of law.

The types of house arrest vary in severity according to the requirements of the court order. A curfew may restrict an offender to their house at certain times, usually during hours of darkness. "Home confinement" or detention requires an offender to remain at home at all times, apart from the above-mentioned exceptions. The most serious level of house arrest is "home incarceration", under which an offender is restricted to their residence 24 hours a day/7 days a week, except for court-approved treatment programs, court appearances, and medical appointments. [2]

In some exceptional cases, it is possible for a person to be placed under house arrest without trial or legal representation, and subject to restrictions on their associates. [6] In some countries this type of detention without trial has been criticized for breaching the offender's human right to a fair trial. [7] In countries with authoritarian systems of government, the government may use such measures to stifle dissent.

Using technology for enforcement

In some countries, house arrest is often enforced through the use of technology products or services. One method is an electronic sensor locked around the offender's ankle (technically called an ankle monitor, also referred to as a tether). The electronic sensor transmits an RF signal to a base handset. The base handset is connected to a police station or for-profit monitoring service.

If the offender goes too far from their home, the violation is recorded, and the police will be notified. To discourage tampering, many ankle monitors detect attempted removal. The monitoring service is often contracted out to private companies, which assign employees to electronically monitor many convicts simultaneously. If a violation occurs the unit signals the office or officer in charge immediately, depending on the severity of the violation. The officer will either call or verify the participant's whereabouts. [8] The monitoring service notifies a convict's probation officer. The electronic surveillance together with frequent contact with their probation officer and checks by the security guards provides for a secure environment.

Another method of ensuring house arrest compliance is achieved through the use of automated calling services that require no human contact to check on the offender. Random calls are made to the residence. The respondent's answer is recorded and compared automatically to the offender's voice pattern. Authorities are notified only if the call is not answered or if the recorded answer does not match the offender's voice pattern.

Electronic monitoring is considered a highly economical alternative to the cost of imprisoning offenders. In many states or jurisdictions, the convict is often required to pay for the monitoring as part of his or her sentence.

Notable instances




Myanmar (Burma)



People's Republic of China

The People's Republic of China continues to use soft detention, a traditional form of house arrest used by the Chinese Empire. [10]

Republic of China






In Italy, house arrest (in Italian arresti domiciliari) is a common practice of detaining suspects, as an alternative to detention in a correctional facility, and is also commonly practiced on those felons who are close to the end of their prison terms, or for those whose health condition does not allow residence in a correctional facility, except some particular cases of extremely dangerous persons. As per article 284 of the Italian Penal Procedure Code, house arrest is imposed by a judge, who orders the suspect to stay confined in his house, home, residence, private property, or any other place of cure or assistance where he/she may be housed at the moment. When necessary, the judge may also forbid any contact between the subject and any person other than those who cohabit with him/her or who assist him/her. If the subject is unable to take care of his/her life necessities or if he/she is in conditions of absolute poverty, the judge may authorize him/her to leave his/her home for the strict necessary time to take care of said needs or to exercise a job. The prosecuting authorities and law enforcement can check at any moment whether the subject, who is de facto considered in state of detention, is complying with the order; violation of house arrest terms is immediately followed by transfer to a correctional facility. House arrests cannot be applied to a subject that has been found guilty of escape within the previous five years.

Notable cases:

New Zealand

At sentencing, the judge may sentence an offender to home detention where they would otherwise receive a short-term prison sentence (i.e. two years or less). Home detention sentences range from 14 days and 12 months; offenders are confined to their approved residence 24 hours a day and may only leave with the permission of their probation officer.

Electronic monitoring equipment is extensively used by the New Zealand Department of Corrections to ensure that convicted offenders subject to home detention remain within approved areas. This takes the form of a Global Positioning System tracker fitted to the offender's ankle and monitoring units located at their residence and place of employment. As of 2015 over three thousand persons were serving home detention sentences under GPS surveillance.



Roman Catholic Church


South Africa

Soviet Union


United Kingdom

United States


See also

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