Definition of house arrest
- (law) The situation where a person is confined, by the authorities, to his or her residence, possibly with travel allowed but restricted. Used as a lenient alternative to prison time.
In justice and law, house arrest (also called home confinement, home detention, or electronic monitoring) is a measure by which a person is confined by the authorities to his or her residence. Travel is usually restricted, if allowed at all. House arrest is a lenient alternative to prison time or juvenile-detention time.
While house arrest can be applied to common 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 means of communication. If electronic communication is allowed, conversations will most likely be monitored. With certain units, the conversations of criminals can be monitored directly via the unit itself.
Home detention provides an alternative to imprisonment and aims to reduce re-offending while also coping with expanding prison numbers and rising costs. 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 offenders are rarely confined to their residence 24 hours a day. Most programs allow employed offenders to continue to work, and only confine them during non-working hours. Offenders are also commonly allowed to leave their homes for specific, pre-determined purposes; examples can include visits to the probation officer or police station, school, religious exceptions and medical appointments. Many programs also allow the convict to leave the residence during regular, pre-approved times in order to carry out general household errands such as food shopping and laundry. Offenders may also have to respond to communications from a higher authority to verify that they are at home when required to be.
There are several types of house arrest, varying in severity as 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 would require an offender to remain at home for most hours, apart from the above mentioned exceptions. The most serious is home incarceration which would constrain an offender to their home constantly, aside from court-sanctioned treatment programmes and medical appointments.
In some exceptional cases, it is possible for a person to be placed under house arrest without trial or legal representation, with restrictions on who they can associate with. In some countries this has led to criticism, in which it is argued that this type of detention breaches the offender's human rights. In countries with authoritarian systems of government, such measures may be politically motivated to stifle dissent.
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