Criminology Electronically Monitored Home Confinement
William G. Staples, Darcy L. Sullivan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 August 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0269


As a tactic of control and punishment, “house arrest’’ has been used for millennia to sequester individuals such as deposed leaders, government officials, and political dissidents in a residence. Since the late 1980s, various forms of house arrest—typically involving some kind of electronic monitoring (EM) and therefore broadly referred to as electronically monitored home confinement (EMHC)—have come to play a role in both the criminal and juvenile justice systems of the United States and in other countries. Unfortunately, the US Department of Justice does not collect data on the numbers of persons under EM. According to a 2015 survey conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts, more than 125,000 people were supervised by electronic means, up from 53,000 in 2005. The survey also found that all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government use electronic devices to monitor people at various stages of the justice system including pretrial defendants, immigrants awaiting deportation hearings, and convicted offenders. EMHC is considered an intermediate sanction that permits an individual to live at home except when authorized to attend school, treatment programs, and go to work, or meet with program officials. Participants must agree to an extensive list of conditions of their participation and they are often required to pay for their EMHC (typically $10–15 a day). Violators are commonly jailed for non-compliance. A variety of monitoring systems are used, the original and most common being some form of a continuous radio frequency (RF) signal between a receiver-dialer that is attached to a telephone line in the home and a transmitter that is worn by the offender on the ankle or wrist. With these “tagging” systems, individuals cannot stray further than 150 feet or so from the monitoring box without triggering a violation. More sophisticated designs are based on the Global Positioning System (GPS) that can track the whereabouts of individuals at all times, even if they have absconded from the home. Other systems have added biometric measurements such as transdermal alcohol testing to the anklet to determine a person’s blood alcohol content. Yet another version dispenses with the anklet monitor and a digital device is installed in the home and random phone calls from the program’s computer system must be answered by the offender when they are required to be in the home. To verify compliance, the system uses voice and facial recognition capabilities and collects a breath sample to test for alcohol.

General Overviews

There are only a few broad overviews, histories, or comprehensive scholarly works on house arrest. Lilly and Ball 1987 is an account of the early uses of house arrest and the implementation of electronic monitoring in the 1980s. Ball, et al. 1988, whose authors have written frequently on house arrest, follows this law review article with an edited collection that addresses the legislative, policy, and constitutional issues brought about by the practice of house arrest. McCarthy 1987 is another edited volume focused on intermediate sanctions including house arrest and electronic monitoring that describes early devices, costs, issues of social control and net-widening, and electronically monitored home confinement (EMHC) and prison overcrowding. Payne and Gainey 2000 traces the early development of EMHC programs and attempts to addresses the philosophical, systemic, and political issues that emerged. More recent literature includes Renzema and Mayo-Wilson 2005, which is a look at the results of all recidivism studies of EMHC from 1986 and 2002; Burrell and Gable 2008, which offers a historical context for EMHC and the evidence of electronic monitoring (EM) on recidivism; Martinovic 2010, which investigates the elements of punitiveness of EMHC for offenders; and Development Services Group, Inc. 2014 which offers a brief appraisal focused on electronic monitoring of juveniles produced for the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). Nellis, et al. 2013 compares the development of EM across nine different countries. This edited book is an excellent source for understanding the complex, localized, social, and political context of EM technologies and practice and both its utopian hopes and dystopian fears.

  • Ball, Richard A., Ronald C. Huff, and Robert J. Lilly. 1988. House arrest and correctional policy: Doing time at home. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

    Authors explore home confinement as an alternative to serving time in correctional facilities. By using historical and philosophical frameworks, the authors examine the legal, social, and psychological aspects of various EMHC programs.

  • Burrell, William, and Robert Gable. 2008. From B. F. Skinner to Spiderman to Martha Stewart: The past, present, and future of electronic monitoring of offenders. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation 46.3/4: 101–108.

    DOI: 10.1080/10509670802143342

    Burrell and Gable provide a history of electronically monitored home confinement and summarizes research evaluating the effect of electronic monitoring on recidivism. Authors argue the technical capabilities of electronic monitoring should be used alongside interventions rooted in social learning theory to lower recidivism and ensure public safety.

  • Development Services Group, Inc. 2014. Home confinement and electronic monitoring. Literature review. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

    This paper is a literature review of home confinement and electronically monitored home confinement research for juvenile offenders. Background information on electronic monitoring is provided; the review then discusses the target population for home confinement and electronic monitoring, and the advantages and disadvantages of these programs.

  • Lilly, Robert J., and Richard A. Ball. 1987. A brief history of house arrest and electronic monitoring. Northern Kentucky Law Review 13:343–374.

    Lilly and Ball provide a history of EMHC and use literature to explain why the strategy was becoming popular. Authors raise a number of concerns including the proliferation of EM during the conservative political climate of the late 1980s, new electronic technologies and the specter of an Orwellian future, and the increasing government control and invasion of privacy.

  • Martinovic, Marietta. 2010. The complexity of punitiveness of electronically monitored sanctions. Saarbrucken, Germany: LAP Lambert Academic.

    Martinovic presents a critical review of EMHC literature to examine offenders’ opinions about EM and its impact on them. The author posits that societal notions of EMHC as being “soft” on crime neglect the wealth of scholarship which finds EMHC can have intrusive and detrimental effects on program participants. In addition to restricting offenders’ actions, EMHC also burdens individuals living in the home. Martinovic suggests persons responsible for sentencing consider an individual’s personal and social characteristics to tailor EMHC conditions suitable for each offender.

  • McCarthy, Belinda, ed. 1987. Intermediate punishments: Intensive supervision, home confinement and electronic surveillance. Monsey, NY: Willow Tree Press.

    A collection of papers on intermediate sanctions, including EMHC. Chapters describe passive and active surveillance devices, the costs of such programs compared to incarceration, and issues related to social control and net-widening with corrections. Report of one feasibility study notes that such devices are a useful correctional tool, but are not a sole solution to prison overcrowding. Additional papers describe house-arrest programs in Florida and Kentucky.

  • Nellis, Mike, Kristel Beyens, and Dan Kaminski. 2013. Electronically monitored punishment: International and critical perspectives. Oxon, UK: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203103029

    This book contains a collection of essays on the global rise of electronic monitoring as a form of penalty and reflections on its social consequences. The book offers both detailed, situational accounts of the emergence of EM technologies in nine countries and several chapters that reflect on the ethical concerns, offender experience and compliance, neoliberal marketization, and the financial impact of EM on correctional systems.

  • Payne, Brian K., and Randy R. Gainey. 2000. Electronic monitoring: Philosophical, systemic, and political issues. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation 31.3–4: 93–111.

    DOI: 10.1300/J076v31n03_06

    Authors use a conceptual framework to evaluate most any correctional program and apply it to EM. The paper traces the development of EMHC programs in the United States and addresses the philosophical, systemic, and political issues that have appeared. Ways to address these unresolved issues are also considered.

  • Renzema, Marc, and Evan Mayo-Wilson. 2005. Can electronic monitoring reduce crime for moderate to high-risk offenders? Journal of Experimental Criminology 1:215–237.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11292-005-1615-1

    This literature review examines all recidivism studies of electronic monitoring from 1986 and 2002 that contained comparisons of offenders. Renzema and Mayo-Wilson conclude more studies are needed to make stronger statements about the effect of electronic monitoring on recidivism among moderate to high-risk individuals.

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