Targeted home confinement for individuals convicted of criminal offenses is safer, smarter and cheaper, according to data cited by the Niskanen Center, an advocacy organization that works to change public policy.
In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Among other actions, the law temporarily expanded the authority of the federal Bureau of Prisons to place incarcerated people in home confinement. This helped to reduce the threat posed by Covid-19 to staff and people housed in federal prisons. It also allowed a test of the effectiveness of home supervision using electronic monitoring.
According to the report, the Department of Justice defines home confinement as containing the following restrictions: 1) Supervision, including monitoring, drug and alcohol testing, and check-in requirements; 2) Only leaving their residence for work or other preapproved activities; and 3) Individuals who violate their conditions or commit new crimes may be returned to prison.
Prior to placing people on home confinement, the BOP conducted thorough risk assessments using a number of criteria intended to ensure the lowest-risk incarcerated people were prioritized.
Evidence from the home confinement program after the passage of the CARES Act suggests that this approach is effective and safe, according data cited by the Niskanen Center.
Three years after passing the law, 13,024 individuals were under in-home confinement. Of those individuals, 521 returned to protected custody — approximately 3% — mostly due to drug and alcohol violations. As of May 2023, only 22 people had committed new offenses — a new crime rate of less than half of 1%.
Due to these results, the Niskanen Center argues that home confinement and electronic monitoring is safe for the public and an effective alternative to incarceration.
It also has the benefit of reducing overcrowding in prisons and allowing for better officer-to-incarcerated ratios, which creates safer prison conditions.
Another benefit are the cost savings. In 2020, housing a federal prisoner cost approximately $120 a day whereas home confinement costs roughly $55 a day. In addition, a smaller federal prison population can reduce the billions spent on maintenance for the numerous aging federal prisons.
The Niskanen Center contends these cost savings could be used on crime prevention measures, having a larger impact per-dollar. For example, investing money on law enforcement can actually reduce crime by providing resources to capture, prosecute, and incarcerate the most violent offenders, said the report.
Due to these advantages, the Niskanen Center is encouraging Congress to expand the use of home confinement.
The Niskanen Center’s recommendations included that Congress should change federal sentencing laws to make home confinement the default sentence for offenders who meet specific criteria.
The report noted that the BOP could customize supervision requirements to individual offenders by coupling clear rules with immediate and reliable sanctions. Some people may need stricter restrictions or more frequent drug tests while others may not.
Providing a graduated reintegration off home confinement would incentivize individuals to follow their restrictions and demonstrate good behavior. Additionally, just knowing that authorities are tracking every move can reduce reoffending, according to the report.
“In light of those promising results,” wrote the Niskanen Center, “Congress should establish [an expanded] home confinement program [to] generate substantial public safety benefits, including savings that can be reallocated to law enforcement, better enforcement of community supervision rules, and improved management of federal corrections facilities.”