A Primer On Home Confinement

New Jersey Criminal Lawyers Schwartz Posnock

A Federal Law Article

By NJ Criminal Lawyer, David A. Schwartz

A Supervision Tool

Home confinement is a tool that helps U.S. Probation and Pretrial services officers supervise, or monitor, defendants and offenders in the community. In the federal courts, home confinement is not a sentence in and of itself, but may be a condition of either probation, parole, supervised release, or pretrial release.

A person placed under home confinement is confined to his or her residence, which is usually linked to an electronic monitoring or GPS system, and required to maintain a strict daily activity schedule. When you are allowed to leave home, and for what reasons, is determined case by case.

Home confinement’s purpose depends on the phase of the criminal justice process in which it is used. In all cases, it is a means to restrict a person’s activity and to protect the public from any threat the person may pose.

In pretrial cases, home confinement is an alternative to detention used to assist in ensuring community safety. In post-sentence cases, home confinement is used as a punishment, viewed as more punitive than regular supervision but less than imprisonment.

Courts may use home confinement as a sanction for persons who violate the conditions of their supervision. Also, the Bureau of Prisons may use it for inmates released to serve the last part of their sentence under the supervision of U.S. Probation officers.

The home confinement program in the federal courts has three components or levels of restrictions. Curfew requires the program participant to remain at home every day at certain times. With home detention, the participant remains at home at all times, except for pre-approved and scheduled absences, such as for work, school, treatment, church, attorney appointments, court appearances, and other court-ordered obligations.

Home incarceration calls for 24-hour-a-day “lock-down” at home, except for medical appointments, court appearances, and other activities that the court specifically approves.

Home confinement benefits the courts in that it costs much less than incarceration. Moreover, courts may order persons placed under home confinement to pay all or part of monitoring costs. Home confinement also enables defendants and offenders to continue to contribute to the support of their families and pay taxes.

The Officer’s Role

Close supervision by officers is a crucial component of the home confinement program. Supervision helps deter further crime, ensure the safety of the community, and bring order to the defendant or offender’s life.
Officers monitor program participants to ensure that they are working, maintaining a stable living arrangement, and not engaging in prohibited behavior such as substance abuse. Officers also check monitoring equipment at least monthly to make sure that it is working and to look for signs of tampering.

The officer’s job is demanding, time-consuming, and sometimes dangerous. It requires frequent phone calls to make sure participants are adhering to their approved schedules; frequent unannounced, face-to-face visits; and 24-hour, 7-day response to alerts from monitoring centers.

Who Participates?

Officers screen defendants and offenders to determine eligibility for home confinement. Certain categories of serious or repeat offenders are not recommended to participate.

Prior criminal record, history of violence, and medical and mental health conditions and needs are factors that officers carefully consider. Previous failures on supervision, risk to the public, third-party risk (such as previous incidents of domestic violence in the household), and the person’s willingness to participate also are considerations.

With electronic monitoring, the residence and telephone service also influence the decision. The cooperation of all occupants of the home is essential. The person in the household who subscribes to phone service must be willing to allow the phone to be used for electronic monitoring purposes, which places restrictions on access to the phone and on special features such as call waiting.

Success or Failure?

For persons placed under home confinement, how well they comply with the conditions set expressly for them determines whether they succeed. Post-conviction participants who comply with program rules may be eligible to use earned leave. Earned leave is a privilege that allows participants to be away from home for a set time period for approved activities.

Program participants who do not comply with the conditions of their supervision may face sanctions ranging from reprimand, to loss of earned leave privileges, to revocation proceedings. The most serious violations include violations for new criminal conduct, violations that compromise public safety, and absconding from supervision.

Violations that concern the home confinement program in particular include not adhering to the approved leave schedule, or going to an unapproved location or activity, and tampering with equipment.

Electric Monitoring and GPS

In most cases. U.S. probation and pretrial services officers use electronic monitoring or GPS technology in supervising persons placed under home confinement.

With electronic monitoring, the individual wears a tamper-resistant transmitter on the ankle or wrist 24 hours a day. The transmitter emits a radio frequency signal that is detected by a receiver/dialer unit connected to the home phone. When the transmitter comes within range of the receiver/dialer unit, that unit calls a monitoring center to indicate that the person is in range or at home. The person must stay within a specified distance of the receiving unit to be considered in range.

While electronic monitoring detects and reports the time a person enters and exits his or her home, GPS makes it possible to actually monitor the persons whereabouts in the community. With GPS, the individual is required to carry a tracking device.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts contracts with monitoring companies to provide equipment and around-the-clock electronic and GPS surveillance to U.S. probation and pretrial services offices nationwide.

The monitoring centers provide daily reports that document program participants’ activities 24 hours a day. They also track all key events and report them promptly to the officers who supervise persons on home confinement. Key events include equipment tampering, unauthorized absence from home, failure to return home after an authorized absence, and leaving home early or returning home late.

Key events also may be triggered by equipment malfunctions and loss of electrical power or phone service. Participants must notify officers immediately if they lose electrical power or phone service, if they remove the transmitter because of an emergency, or if they experience any problems with the monitoring equipment.


  • Home confinement will be enforced by means of electronic monitoring unless the Court directs otherwise.
  • Home confinement begins as soon as you arrive home after being released.
  • Defendants on the electronic monitoring program must adhere to all rules and regulations of home confinement as directed by the Pretrial Services Agency.
  • While on home confinement the defendant is confined to the interior of their residence except for pre-approved schedules and emergency situations (see Emergency Instructions)
  • Participants on the electronic monitoring program must have and maintain telephone and electrical services at their residence at the defendant’s expense.
  • No special features are permitted on the line used for monitoring, e.g. call forwarding, a modem, caller ID, call waiting, answering machines/service, or a cordless telephone.
  • Novelty and low quality telephones do not work effectively with electronic monitoring equipment. The defendant must provide a telephone which is compatible with the electronic monitoring equipment at their own expense. This telephone line must just have long distance.


  • All defendants placed on electronic monitoring are expected to pay for the cost of the service unless the Court specifically directs otherwise.
  • The cost is set by a national contract awarded to a monitoring agency. The Pretrial Services Agency will advise you of the daily cost of the service. This cost is presently set at $4.25/day.
  • All payments must be in the form of a money order and should be mailed to your officer. Pretrial Services will not accept a personal check. Bills will not be sent out each month unless there is a change in the monitoring rate established by the national contractor. Payment is due on the 1st of each month.


  • Defendants who have been granted permission to seek and obtain employment by the Court will only be permitted to obtain employment at jobs which are stationary, that is, do not require any travel.
  • Defendants will only be permitted to obtain employment which is on the books, that is, they must receive pay checks. Defendants must provide proof of employment, i.e., pay stubs, time sheets, itineraries, and/or other documents required by Pretrial Services.


  • Before retiring each evening, please be sure that: (1) the telephone and monitoring device are properly plugged in and the telephone is on the hook; (2) the power light is on; (3) the transmitter is still intact.


  • An emergency is defined as (1) a fire in the residence; (2) medical emergencies that require immediate medical care; and (3) the threat of bodily harm to the defendant or other occupant of the residence.
  • When emergencies occur the defendant is required to contact the Pretrial Services Agency as soon as reasonably possible. After that time, the participant will be required to provide documentation verifying the emergency situation, i.e., police report, medical report or fire report.
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