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House Arrest vs Jail: Definition and Key Differences (2024)

Whether you are sentenced to house arrest (also known as home confinement or electronic monitoring) or jail depends on a variety of factors including the nature and severity of the crime, your criminal history, the specific laws in your jurisdiction, and the discretion of the court.
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What is House Arrest?

U.S. Department of Justice, 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. In at least 20 States, electronic bracelets are used to detect house-arrest violations [1].

House arrest offers several benefits, including cost-effectiveness, adaptability to the needs of the community and the offender, straightforward execution, and promptness in enforcement. However, there are notable drawbacks.

These include the potential expansion of social control, the diminution of the perceived severity of punishment, and a focus more on monitoring offenders than on their rehabilitation. Moreover, house arrest can be invasive and, in some cases, potentially unlawful.

There are also concerns regarding biases in selecting participants for house arrest based on race and socioeconomic status, which may affect the fairness of its application. Additionally, relying on house arrest could pose risks to public safety.

This sentencing option, while practical in certain cases, raises important questions about justice, equality, and effectiveness in the criminal justice system.

How is House Arrest Different From Jail?

According to SCLG, the primary difference between house arrest and jail lies in the location of confinement: your own home versus a correctional facility [2]. This key difference leads to several other distinctions.

For instance, while under house arrest, you might have the ability to:

  • Spend time with family,
  • Continue working or attending school,
  • Participate in religious activities at a place of your choosing,
  • Visit your usual healthcare providers for medical or counseling appointments,
  • Fulfill community service obligations.

In jail, you will generally not be allowed to do any of these things or will have very limited rights. For example, on house arrest, you can have family or friends visit you under the terms of your confinement. In jail, however, you have very limited visitation rights.

Financially, house arrest often requires you to bear the cost of monitoring, which includes a setup fee for the electronic surveillance device and a daily maintenance fee. Initial setup costs can exceed $100, and daily monitoring fees can reach up to $50, which can be a financial burden for many. Some jurisdictions offer subsidies for those with lower incomes to help manage these costs.

Another legal consideration is the accrual of good time credits, which can shorten the duration of jail sentences but may not apply to house arrest. In some places, serving time in jail might allow for early release based on good behavior, whereas time spent on house arrest must be served in full, without the benefit of early release for good behavior.

These differences highlight the varied implications of house arrest versus incarceration, impacting everything from personal freedom and financial costs to how sentence time is calculated and served.

Who Qualifies for House Arrest?

If you are convicted of a crime, you might have the option to serve your sentence under Supervised Electronic Confinement (SEC) from the comfort of your own home.

To qualify for home confinement, often referred to as “house arrest,” you must meet the following criteria:

  • You must be considered a low-risk, nonviolent offender.
  • The sentencing judge must not have excluded you from participating in the program.
  • Your sentence must involve time in county jail.
  • You must have a permanent or temporary residence within or near the county where you were sentenced.
  • Your residence must have a compatible telephone.
  • You must agree to the conditions set forth by the SEC program.
  • You must be able to pay for the home confinement, with fees based on your financial capability.

Additionally, you may be eligible for this home confinement program if you can demonstrate to the court that you have a medical impairment or disability that would make jail time particularly challenging. This alternative serves to accommodate individuals who might face undue hardship from traditional incarceration.

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