Understanding Ankle Bracelets and House Arrest Orders


Community corrections and pre-trial home confinement programs are part of an effort to provide relief to the overcrowded and overburdened American prison system. As the country with the highest incarceration rates in the world, the United States has been expanding its house arrest programs by means of technology solutions such as personal monitoring devices.

Ankle bracelets have been used in various jurisdictions for decades. In the past, they were mostly used for pre-trial confinement purposes, particularly in situations when defendants posed some level of a flight risk or when keeping them in custody could put them in extreme danger. These days, ankle bracelets are increasingly being used as alternatives to incarceration or as part of release and reintegration programs.

In essence, ankle bracelets are wearable electronic radio transmitters that constantly broadcast signals to base units, which in turn connect to monitoring centers. Until about 2005, ankle bracelet technology was reliant on analog telephone lines; individuals under house arrest had to always be in range of the base unit so that it could call the monitoring center.

Over the last decade, global positioning system technology has been incorporated to ankle bracelets; the base unit is replaced with a smartphone that defendants must carry around the clock, but the more advanced versions incorporate wireless transmitters.

Legacy ankle bracelets are waterproof and rugged; they are lightweight devices equipped with batteries that can last for months. The new GPS bracelets need to be recharged every 12 hours; they tend to be bulkier, heavier and may not be waterproof in all cases. The advantage of GPS bracelets is that they are more accurate and easier to adjust in terms of court orders.

Whenever individuals who are ordered to wear ankle bracelets step outside of a certain radius or set of coordinates, they may face serious consequences such as being classified as fugitives. Both legacy and GPS bracelets are notorious for malfunctioning and reporting individuals as being out in violation of their home confinement orders. It is not unusual to hear about police officers being dispatched in the middle of the night to check on individuals under house arrest only to find out that the battery in their GPS devices failed to charge.

For the most part, individuals under house arrest must pay a weekly or monthly fee for the devices they wear; this cost may be in addition to monthly probation fees, restitution and court fines. Should the equipment be damaged, the cost of repair or replacement may fall on the individual.

Depending on the specific conditions set by the house arrest order, defendants and former inmates may also face restrictions beyond being confined to a short perimeter in their homes. Those who are expected to adhere to a work or school schedule may have to call the monitoring service when they leave their homes and upon returning from their allowed activities, but this may not be necessary with GPS ankle bracelets.

Home confinement orders can sometimes be declined by inmates who prefer to serve the rest of their sentence in an institution instead of having to adjust to a new system, especially if it is only for a few weeks.