How does house arrest work?
July 16, 2004 2:43 PM   Subscribe

How does house arrest work? (more inside)

Martha Stewart's sentencing includes five months of 'home confinement.'

How is that handled in the U.S.? How much does it vary from state to state? Is she literally forbidden from setting foot from the house? Is it, then, reserved for people rich enough to comfortably have everything delivered? Or are certain reasonable errands permitted, and how is that defined?
posted by Zed_Lopez to Law & Government (14 answers total)
Doesn't it involve a bracelet that beeps or sends an alarm if she goes more than a certain distance from the house? I think it assumes you have someone else in the house to shop for you, etc. And i'm sure you can go to the doctor or to see your lawyer.
posted by amberglow at 2:54 PM on July 16, 2004

It's a Federal sentence, so I don't think it would be affected by state-to-state variations.

In the Sopranos, Uncle Junior could only leave the house for funerals and similar important events. They never showed him grocery shopping or anything like that. Good question.
posted by bcwinters at 2:54 PM on July 16, 2004

I had a friend who had one of those anklets for a while (I'm pretty sure it wasn't a federal one, though). He was allowed to go to work, see his doctor, etc., at pre-arranged times. Other than that he was supposed to stay in his apartment.

My apartment was close enough to his (~30 yards away) that he could come over without triggering the alarm, and he frequently told The Man that he had to work a night shift so that he could go out to parties. They were theoretically supposed to check up on him occasionally, but I don't think that ever happened.
posted by nixxon at 3:06 PM on July 16, 2004

Yes, in the Sopranos the only way Junior can leave is funerals, visits to a lawyer and going to the doctor.

For normal people like you and me, who need to work for a living, I believe (really sure on) that you can leave to go to work. This short article backs me up.

The real question is how do they determine Martha's house. She has, I assume, multiple homes. I'm guessing they'll choose her primary residence which is something around two hundred acres. The question is if the radio frequencies the bracelet uses can transmit that far. I'm guessing that without Martha wearing a battery backpack they'll have to device some scheme of monitoring. A GPS tracking device would be ideal, but I seriously doubt there's the infrastructure to monitor it. Not that they won't be able to monitor a GPS tracking advice, just that they'd have to devise a way to monitor just *her* which would seem costly considering that Martha's flight potential is low.
posted by geoff. at 3:09 PM on July 16, 2004

In high school one of the guys on my rowing team was on house arrest for a while and he had an anklet that tracked his movements. IIRC, he was allowed to go to school, rowing practice, and work; not sure about things like grocery shopping. Whoever he was supposed to check in with (parole officer?) had his schedule, and he had to let them know about any special events (e.g. regattas) which I believe got double checked with our coach.
posted by rorycberger at 3:10 PM on July 16, 2004

A friend in Florida was under house arrest for a year. Basically, he had to submit a schedule for when he would need to be out of the house for work, church, and doctor appointments. There was a device at home that recorded whether he was within range and reported the data to a central computer via modem once a day. If the records on the computer didn't match up with his preapproved schedule, he had to do some explaining to the probation officer.
posted by 4easypayments at 3:17 PM on July 16, 2004

It would be interesting if they limit her to her to the range of the normal anklet, which would probably preclude her from even using her entire house, let alone her estate. After all, why should they devise a special system so that she can travel further than others could on house arrest? Either way, Martha Stewart's house arrest will certainly be way less torturous than most people's, just by virtue of the fact that her house is way nicer than most people's and she's got a full time staff to take care of any errands.
posted by rorycberger at 3:27 PM on July 16, 2004

On the radio they said she choose house arrest at her newest home.
posted by drezdn at 4:17 PM on July 16, 2004

Depends on the severity of the offence and sentence, but I think they can be on timers, so people can go to work and so on. In those cases it's more like curfew. AFAIK, some people can negotiate when they want to leave the house on a regular basis/schedule.
posted by carter at 5:23 PM on July 16, 2004

In her case, she chose her home in Bedford, NY, and she is allowed to leave the house for 48 hours per week in order to work or shop, as far as I understand.
posted by loquax at 6:54 PM on July 16, 2004

Leave for 48 hours a week? So, basically, she's free from 9-to-5.

That's so tough.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:24 PM on July 16, 2004

A friend in Florida was on house arrest for two years (she got really fucked by The Man, but I won't get into that). She didn't have to wear the ankle bracelet, luckily, and she had a certain window of time during the day to go grocery shopping, etc. (i.e. 12pm-2pm MWF) and was allowed to work. She was subject to random visits from a house arrest caseworker (for lack of a better term) just to make sure she was home when she should have been. So she was given a modicum of freedom, but with strict limits on it.
posted by ScarletSpectrum at 10:17 PM on July 16, 2004

Lots of people have answered in technical terms. There are different types of devices available, mainly the ankle-bracelet type, but also voice-response types and some have GPS so they can't be moved too far. My mother works in county probation and actually does the hookups for these. There's a service company with whom the county contracts, and there's a process of registering a phone number, and the device has to be hooked up to a registered phone line. When the call comes through, which may be either enforcing a return time or just random, there's a sound on the phone (in case you're using it) and a light and noise on the device. The miscreant then has a set few minutes to get the phone hung up and wait for the call. If they don't get the right confirmation response, the company calls county 911 and things escalate, and can result in something resembling an all-points-bulletin (though usually not very urgent) and an arrest warrant.

How is that handled in the U.S.? How much does it vary from state to state? Is she literally forbidden from setting foot from the house? Is it, then, reserved for people rich enough to comfortably have everything delivered? Or are certain reasonable errands permitted, and how is that defined?

State to state, yes, because state law differs, sometimes markedly. Generally state law must permit alternative sentencing, and may set the terms very specifically. Jurisdiction to jurisdiction also matters. Sentencing here is by county-level judiciary, but there are also state and federal courts, and in some areas there are lower-level (e.g. municipal) courts. All of these might have different legal limitations, implementations, or equipment.

Setting foot from the house? In practical terms, it's all about being close enough to get a phone call (with maximum five minutes notice, say). You can't stray too far from the device without triggering it, but that distance might differ or be adjustable.

Reserved for the rich? Well, in a lot of cases, because the rich tend to commit white-collar crime. But the monitoring option is generally used for non-violent criminals with no history of repeat offenses. The basic goal is to keep prison beds for the people who really need them. Whether you pay to get things delivered to you, or merely have family and friends kind enough to shop for you, is mostly up to you. (I suppose an isolated shut-in would have a case for some flexibility.)

Even with generous leave terms, however, people are always getting into trouble. (My mother's other job, sometimes, is off-hour troubleshooting of probation violations.) They sneak off to a friend's, they change their work schedule without permission, they run off to the Wisconsin Dells for a day. It may seem easy -- stay home and watch TV, right? -- but you try it sometime. I think most people get cabin fever after a while. They get really pissed at the simple requirement that they arrange trips in advance. Jail, for some, is actually a simpler solution.

Funny monitoring device story: Somebody had to get their monitor replaced; due to a mix-up (not my mom's!) the bad one was left behind, and they told her to leave it on the porch and they'd send someone to pick it up. A neighbor decided to walk off with it. The cops followed the device's GPS signal with the help of the monitoring company ... right to his front door.
posted by dhartung at 12:34 AM on July 17, 2004

it's all about being close enough to get a phone call (with maximum five minutes notice, say)

?? How are they going to give you five minutes notice of the phone call? Phone you?
posted by five fresh fish at 9:30 AM on July 17, 2004

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