The process of living with an offender on electronic monitoring and house arrest

Much has been said on electronic monitors and those who are required to wear them. Basically, they’re used for different offender populations for different reasons with differing goals depending on what type of monitor the person is even wearing. Sounds simple, right? (For a more extensive look at this, visit my other posts on electronic monitors).

In more recent years, offenders are placed on an electronic monitor once they are released from prison and put on parole. This is generally done in tandem with house arrest. The overall goal of these sanctions is for further monitoring of offenders post release from prison. Why the additional sanctions? There’s two sides to the coin. Some would argue public safety reasons. Others might suggest that the state/correctional department is over stepping their bounds on monitoring individuals. To force people on a regular schedule and not permit individuals to leave their houses at night when most shenanigans usually occur (unless they get a pre-approved night job of course). One main point here is that, when a person is initially sentenced, there is no stipulation of house arrest or electronic monitors from the courts. This is laid out by parole once a person becomes eligible for discharge in the near future.


The honey moon phase of having someone back home is short lived, I’ll say that. You’re still excited in the beginning, but then reality soon hits. When you pick someone up from prison, chances are they have been gone a long time. At least a year, most times much longer. There is excitement in the air, a sense of relief, and the hopes that a bright future awaits. You get home, talk, laugh, celebrate. Don’t want the person to leave your sight for more than a second because it seems too good to be true that they are back.

Not long after returning home, however, and mandatory obligations already creep into everyday life. When someone gets out of prison and has parole stipulations the parole officer has a short window of time to make a home visit and run through protocols and what’s expected. During this time, the offender is on automatic house arrest. And during this time, the electronic monitor is installed and set up.

It’s a pretty easy installation. A person comes and puts a monitor box in a jack in the wall somewhere (hopefully out of sight). Then they attach the ankle monitor. Run through need to know information. The process is fairly short lived. There’s a couple distance tests. Hopefully your neighbors don’t notice or see you, or the ankle monitor and the official looking car and badge. And then you’re on your own. The parole officer will establish when you can have “movement,” or when the offender is able to be out of the home. There is generally some open movement time for personal and recreational activities, and then assigned times for school or work.

This is where things get messy. Most individuals won’t go to school straight away or at all. However, everyone needs a job. Especially if someone comes home and has to help provide due to the financial strain that has already been placed on the household. Another reason is that, it allows them to get out of the house and also (as was said to me on many occasions), it makes them feel like a bitch or less of a man to not be able to go to a job and provide, to have a purpose, to be able to make money and use it for what they want. A lot of people coming out of prison have drug convictions or non-violent crime convictions. Getting a job is difficult with any felony, but arguably less so with these types. For violent offenders and individuals with multiple felonies or violent felonies in their background, finding a job becomes an ungodly process. Add this to being on an electronic monitor and house arrest and it’s the perfect set up for explosive behavior.

A few points on that to be considered:

  • The person can only look for jobs at specific and pre-approved times, limiting the ability to search for a job as much as possible
  • Given that parole has 48-72 hours to respond to calls from offenders about movement requests, any last minute or on the fly interview is basically counted out unless it happens to fall within movement hours. To this point, movement is based on the parole officer, so a person could be very limited or not limited much at all.
  • The offender either hides the monitor with pants and tries to hide the fact that they are on parole, or they are honest with the employer, further limiting jobs and job offers
  • If a person hides the monitor and parole status, there is the chance that the parole officer will call their place of work and confirm their hours there so that they can un-restrict movement for those times. If a person was not upfront, chances are they will be let go.

All of these factors add to countless amounts of frustration and stress and growing hostility, especially if a stable, ego-acceptable job is not acquired for a while or at all. Romantic relationships become tense as one person does everything that they possibly can to make the transition from prison back to the community and home as easy and the best they can, but sometimes that’s just not good enough. The other person may be so wrapped up in their own discontent that they do not see everything that others are doing around them. Oftentimes, upon return from prison, given the lifestyle that many offenders lead, documents, IDs, and daily things that we all just have are not available or lost to the winds. Many do not have a driver’s license anymore. Life becomes a scavenger hunt of tracking down documents, filing paper work, searching out places that are hiring, rushing to interviews, dropping off and picking up from work, going from appointment to appointment while you try to maintain a stable home life and continue your own work without getting totally swept up by frustration.

What does and could happen is that the offender begins to become bold. They have reached a limit where they feel useless, trapped, and volatile and start testing the waters of the monitor: I was out an hour past curfew and didn’t get in trouble. I went to the bar when I was on lock down and didn’t get in trouble. I got stopped by the cops when I wasn’t supposed to be out and didn’t’ get in trouble. I haven’t been piss tested at all so now I’m going to go out and drink and I’m not in trouble. I’m going to get in fights and get domestic violence calls and do drugs and I’m still not in trouble. No repercussions, no ramifications, and everyone is picking up the slack around me because I just got home and they don’t want me to go back. The behavior is enabled by the criminal justice system, by family and loved ones, by everyone. And so it continues and progresses and gets worse.

Why do we see such high rates of recidivism? There are many reasons, and I do have some suggestions for better re-entry initiatives that target specific types of offenders (saved for another time). But placing enforcement policies and extended supervision in place and then not enforcing it only allows the offender to test the waters and push boundaries further and further, until one day they are no longer able to hold a job down and are suffering from an addiction they had kicked in prison but never addressed the underlying reasons of it and so, to that end, it resurfaces worse than ever. The loved ones try and help and do everything they can, but eventually feel defeated, becoming prisoners in their own home to mood swings and impulsive behavior and criminal acts being committed against them because they love them and they won’t report any issues. The cycle repeats again and again.

Could electronic monitors be useful? Perhaps for a certain type of offender or in place of jail for lower level charges. But for a chronic offender who has played Russian roulette with the criminal justice system most of their life, I’d dare say it only adds fuel to an already burning fire.