Home Detention provides real alternative to prison

Judge Stephen O’Driscoll

Since 2007 the District Court has been able to impose a sentence of home detention. Now about 3000 offenders a year are being sentenced to home detention.

Image of Judge S O'DriscollIn the sentencing hierarchy home detention sits above community-based sentences but below imprisonment. Home detention is, therefore, a real alternative to imprisonment.

Home detention means an offender has to serve their sentence at a specific residence instead of in prison.

The sentence must be for more than 14 days but no more than 12 months.  It can be imposed as a sentence in its own right or combined with other sentences such as community work.  
Home detention should not be seen as a “soft option”.  It is in effect a curfew at an agreed address, and it is monitored electronically.

The offender must not leave the address at any time, except to seek urgent medical or dental treatment, or to avoid or minimise a serious risk of death or injury.

An offender may get approval to leave the address to seek or do paid work, or to attend training or other rehabilitative activities or programmes, or for any other purpose specifically approved by a probation officer.

A special condition that judges often impose with home detention is judicial monitoring.  This means the judge will receive regular progress reports from the probation officer. In 2017, judges monitored 275 cases in this way.

The court cannot impose home detention if the offender does not agree to it or the conditions. Interestingly, a number of offenders do not consent and the court is left with little option but to impose imprisonment.

Someone on home detention will usually wear an electronic anklet that continually emits a signal and triggers an alarm if the offender leaves the designated address without permission. Should that happen, a monitoring centre will send a security officer to investigate and report to the supervising probation officer who would then take any appropriate action.

The anklet is waterproof and is designed to be worn 24 hours a day.  Offenders can also be monitored while at work or while attending rehabilitative programmes.

The court cannot impose home detention if the place the offender proposes to live is not in an area where the Department of Corrections runs a home detention scheme or where an ankle bracelet’s GPS signal cannot be picked up.

Before imposing the sentence, a court must consider a report from a probation officer, which among other things, will advise whether the proposed residence is suitable.

Anyone else living there is required to understand the conditions of the sentence, and will need to consent to the offender serving the sentence there, in keeping with the conditions.  The occupants may withdraw their consent at any time.

Home detention has several advantages.  It can allow defendants to continue in paid work, remain in their accommodation and maintain family relationships.

It is also less costly to supervise than jail and has high compliance rates.

Most offenders know that should they breach the sentence or re-offend while on home detention, then they are highly likely to be sent to jail.

"The court cannot impose home detention if the offender does not agree to it or the conditions. Interestingly, a number of offenders do not consent and the court is left with little option but to impose imprisonment”