Studies Show Increase of House Arrest During COVID-19 Pandemic

To Slow the Spread of the Coronavirus, Jurisdictions Across the Country Turned to Electronic Monitoring


As the country begins to emerge from over a year-long pandemic-forced lockdown, many are looking for changes that were made to slow the spread of the virus. Early on, prisons and jails emerged as coronavirus hotbeds. 

Data collected by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press indicates that as many as 1 in 5 prisoners in the United States have tested positive COVID-19. Over 1,700 state and federal inmates have died, and “at least 275,000 prisoners have been infected.” According to their research, this is likely not the whole picture, with many infections not reported or counted.

Reducing the Risk

In order to slow infection rates, jails and prisons throughout the United States sought ways to reduce the overall population in their facilities. Studies now show that a distinct rise in the use of electronic monitoring and house arrest. Both allow individuals to be monitored without having to place them in a facility.

Federal Bureau of Prisons

The Federal Bureau of Prisons, acting under a memorandum for then-Attorney General Barr, was directed to prioritize home confinement in response to the pandemic. Nearly 28,000 inmates were placed in home confinement since the original order in March 2020. Eligible inmates for the program included those who were considered non-violent offenders and posed a minimal risk for recidivism. 

The Federal Bureau of Prisons also took into consideration:

  • The age and vulnerability to COVID-19 of the inmate;
  • The facility’s security level;
  • Inmate behavior;
  • The nature of the crime; and 
  • Whether the inmate posed a danger to the community.

A Favorable Alternative to Jail

House arrest and electronic monitoring have long been touted as a favorable jail alternative. In many cases, community supervision saves taxpayers money while still addressing public safety concerns. Offenders continued to be monitored but do not need to be housed. By placing more people on house arrest or electronic monitoring, jails could reduce overcrowding, helping to alleviate some of the risks of COVID-19.