How Does A House Arrest Ankle Bracelet Work?

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

Socialite and reality television star Paris Hilton is no stranger to making scandalous news headlines, but she truly outdid herself in 2007. While serving a term of probation for driving under the influence in California, Hilton was ordered to serve 45 days in a detention facility for a number of violations of her supervised release. After spending just a few days in jail, prison officials feared Hilton would suffer a major nervous breakdown, and so they transferred her to home confinement and monitored her with an electronic ankle bracelet.

Community Corrections, House Arrest and Pretrial Confinement

In several jurisdictions within the United States, electronic ankle bracelets are used in lieu of keeping defendants in custody. Prison overcrowding and inmate warehousing are major concerns in the criminal justice system, and the cost of keeping defendants in jail is a burden on taxpayers. House arrest and home confinement are part of community corrections, a strategy that can help prevent the growth of the prison industrial complex. Keeping defendants in jail before trial is also a costly and risky endeavor.

Types of Ankle Monitoring Devices

Electronic ankle bracelets are often used for community corrections efforts. The type of bracelet that Paris Hilton wore is used in conjunction with a radio frequency base unit that is connected to a traditional telephone line. The reports sent over the phone by the base unit are usually monitored by a third-party contractor, although some law enforcement agencies take care of this function in some jurisdictions.

The ankle monitor is a sturdy and waterproof electronic device that cannot be removed; it will alert the base unit if it is tampered with, and the maximum range of this system is usually 3,000 ft within the radius of the base unit. Should the defendant move out of range, the base unit will emit a loud alarm and the monitoring agency will be notified immediately.

Defendants on home confinement may be allowed to work or go to school while wearing the device; to this end, the monitoring agency is notified of the job or class schedule so that the defendant is not mistakenly labeled as a fugitive.

The other type of ankle bracelet uses Global Positioning System (GPS) technology and requires a mobile phone to be carried by the defendant in some cases. Some GPS ankle monitors incorporate the mobile phone into the device. In recent years, GPS ankle bracelets have been used to enforce restraining orders.

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