Best practices for electronic monitoring post-incarceration

Evidence suggests electronic monitoring plus home detention could be an effective deterrent to crime and have enormous social benefits

By Robert Kanallakan 

Electronic monitoring (EM) is an intermediate sanction used with home confinement, which is also known as house arrest.

EM was initially used as an alternative to incarceration for several reasons: 

In this photo taken Monday, Aug. 3, 2009, Parole Agent Steve Nakamura talks with a parolee wearing a GPS locater worn on his ankle, in Sacramento, Calif.
In this photo taken Monday, Aug. 3, 2009, Parole Agent Steve Nakamura talks with a parolee wearing a GPS locater worn on his ankle, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
  • Reduce prison overcrowding
  • Reduce incarceration costs;
  • Use the provisions of intermediate sanctions; 
  • Reduce recidivism
  • Achieve deterrence, incapacitation and retribution 
  • To punish, surveil and control the offender; 
  • Increase face to face contact through all the stipulations of probation and parole. 

EM is used as a socially expedient intervention sanction that is more punitive then traditional probation, but less harsh then incarceration. The punitive element involves rigorously enforced compliance with conditions set by probation and parole officers. The intent is to enhance compliance while helping offenders gain self-esteem and socially valued skills.

When using EM as a goal toward rehabilitation, the probation and parole officer should conduct positive monitoring and use letters of commendations, verbal praise, reduction of fines and sobriety anniversary celebrations to reward positive behavior. Active intervention should occur when inappropriate behavior is witnessed to correct it immediately.


For an offender to be placed on EM they first must be on house arrest or confinement. They are confined to their homes except for employment, medical or community service. They may also be required to pay restitution or probation supervision fees. As part of house arrest the courts can require EM. This controls the offender’s movement and allows the probation and parole officer to know the exact location of the offender.  

There are two types of electronic monitoring: 

  • Radio frequency (RF) monitoring: This type of monitoring is the cheapest and provides surveillance when the offender is at home. The system is computer generated and makes random calls to the home. It requires the offender to respond to the calls in various ways. 
  • Global Positioning System (GPS): This type of monitoring tracks and maps the whereabouts for the retrieval of the probation and parole officer 24 hours a day. 


House arrest is cost effective and cheaper then incarceration. It also provides social benefits. It allows the offender to keep their job and prevents breaking up families. It is also responsive to local and offender needs. It is flexible and easy to implement when it is used and can be the sole sanction or part of a package of sentencing requirements. Policy makers like it because offenders can be removed quickly for misbehavior. 


House arrest may widen the net of social control when judges use it for programs it was not intended for. House arrest may also narrow the net of social control because some offenders will commit new offenses on house arrest. House arrest focuses primarily on offender surveillance without human contact, so the potential of helping the offender is diminished. House arrest is intrusive and possibly illegal because the offender claims it is issued as a criminal sentence and is imposed after the offender has been legally convicted. 


EM combined with treatment significantly reduces recidivism among moderately high-risk offenders but has no effect on lower risk offenders. EM as a condition of house arrest provides a degree of inconvenience and restrictions as a reminder of the seriousness of the crime. Some claim that the rigorous approach used is less concerned about inflicting revenge upon the offender and is more focused on shaping the offender's behavior. The main goals of EM are the reintegration of the offender back into the community and receiving any needed rehabilitation treatment, while still using punishment as a deterrent for committing crime. 

The disadvantages of EM are like house arrest: 

  • Resistance of policy makers to new strategies; 
  • Concerns about the cost; 
  • The public has a desire for retribution; 
  • Complacency among line staff; 
  • Difficulty in defining success; 
  • Lack of community awareness; 
  • Practice requires working with researchers; 
  • The fear of the unknown.

Some claim EM is an invasion of privacy; that the sanction is not really an alternative to incarceration and is simply a new sentence; that offenders can easily escape into the community; and that it turns the prison into a home. 


Both RF and GPS significantly reduce the likelihood of recidivism for new offenses and absconding from probation and parole even when controlling for sociodemographic characteristic of the offender, current offense, prior records, and the term of supervision factors and conditions. It is found that RF is just as effective as GPS in reducing the likelihood of an offender absconding or being revoked for a new offense. It is slightly more effective than GPS in reducing the likelihood of an offender absconding, being revoked for a new offense, and in reducing the likelihood of revocation for technical violations. 


For any program to work, there must be policies and practices in place. Researchers Matthew DeMichele and Brian Payne outline eight evidence-based interventions that apply to electronic monitoring: 

1. Perform actual risk assessment

Find all types of interventions that are needed to maintain safety and how to effectively work those toward changing the offender behavior. 

2. Enhance intrinsic motivation

Use communication and interactive strategies that make the offender want to change. 

3. Targeting interventions

Target the following:  

  • Risk principle: Every offender has different levels of risk and each must be targeted separately. 
  • Criminogenic needs principle: These are risk factors based on past behaviors related to the offender’s criminal history. 
  • Responsivity principle: As a variety of learning styles and approaches exist, base interventions on the offender’s culture, gender and motivational levels. 
  • Dosage: Provide the exact amount of services the offender needs. 
  • Treatment: Find treatments that aid in targeting the thinking and behavior problems that lead the offender to commit crimes. 

4. Conduct skills training

Train staff in identifying psycho-social development and deficiencies. Staff also need to be trained to recognize how to handle behaviors and recognize what treatments offenders need. 

5. Increase positive reinforcement

Attempt to use positive reinforcement more often than negative reinforcement. Try to use the ratio of 4-1 positive over negative. 

6. Engage ongoing support in natural communities

Help the offender identify collateral contacts. These would be pro-social contacts to help the offender stay on a positive track. 

7. Measure relevant processes and practices

Allow the agencies to identify important benchmarks for the offender’s behavior. 

8. Provide measurement feedback

Recognize the need for intervention #7 to be used in a constructive way to steer agency decisions. 

In addition to these policy recommendations, there are some additional recommendations. When the EM monitor is set up on offenders who have been incarcerated, the probation and parole officer should fully disclose how it works, that it is very controlling of their movements, and that the offender’s family needs to be prepared because EM takes a toll on everyone. 


Working as a correctional officer it is very disturbing when you see young or first-time offenders incarcerated. Once inside a facility, they often learn to become better criminals rather than work on their rehabilitation.

Evidence suggests EM plus home detention could be an effective deterrent to crime and have enormous social benefits, especially if it is applied early and saves habitual offenders from a life of crime. Studies show that offenders who are electronically monitored are less likely to commit new offenses and that jail incarceration followed by EM affords offenders respect by trusting them with early release into the community. 

The use of EM at an early stage of a sentence with various treatment programs is an appropriate and effective method of rehabilitation. The longer they remain untreated, the less likely they are to be able to become a productive member of society. Even if they have committed a crime that has a mandatory minimum sentence before they are eligible for parole, the offenders should still be able to participate in EM programs. 

Many young offenders convicted of serious weapon-related crimes could use EM with extensive treatment. These offenders should serve a part of their sentence before being able to parole with EM. To be eligible they should be required to complete some classes and should be discipline free for a period while incarcerated to be considered. They should be assisted in getting all their needs and risks treated or to be in treatment upon release. The EM should be very strict at the beginning and, as time goes by, they can earn privileges to have some requirements reduced. By the time they are ready to be released from parole and off EM they should be accustomed to being back into society and ready to make all their decisions independently.

Based on the research and first-hand experience it is recommended that all first-time offenders convicted of even the most serious crimes be allowed to parole early onto a very strict EM sanction. This keeps them from becoming institutionalized, becoming better criminals and gives them an opportunity to get back into society as a productive member.


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About the author 

Robert Kanallakan currently works as a corrections officer for the state of Missouri. He also worked for the City of St Louis Department of Corrections and has six years of law enforcement experience as a police officer. He will graduate in June 2019 from ASU with a Corrections Management Masters Certificate. 

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