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Work Release & House Arrest

This articles briefly describes the benefits and detriments to popular jail alternatives, including work release, electronic monitoring, sober living, and more.


A jail alternative is a sentence that serves in lieu of incarceration. Some crimes do not qualify for a jail alternative sentence. For example, a criminal conviction for most violent crimes will not qualify for a non-incarceration sentence (See list at Violent Crimes). Also, some crimes qualify for a split jail sentence, which means that the defendant may serve some part of his or her incarceration in-custody and part of it out-of-custody via an alternative jail sentence. For information on crimes that qualify for a split sentence see PC 1170(h) Crimes.

Electronic Monitoring: This alternative to a jail sentence is also known as house arrest. It requires the defendant to wear an ankle bracelet that monitors where the defendant is located at all times. A defendant on house arrest is generally allowed to attend school, work, doctor appointments and other important activities so long as he or she is at home at night and during the times that he or she is not at work, school, mandatory classes such as DUI classes, etc.

Electronic monitoring as a jail alternative is very attractive to most defendants. There is a fee associated with electronic monitoring that is somewhere between ten and twenty-five dollars a day for each day of monitoring; the amount charged depends on several factors, such as whether or not the defendant has a land-line phone connection at the place of his or her residence and how much money the defendant earns.

The drawbacks to electronic monitoring: 1) Electronic monitoring cost more than other alternatives to jail sentencing options, 2) The defendant cannot leave his or her house when he or she is not working, at school, etc., and 3) The defendant does not earn good time credits while on house arrest  (no time off a sentence for good behavior).

Note: Riverside & San Bernardino County have recently started to give 50% credit for electronic monitoring (one day credit for every day served) as long as the defendant is on good behavior and does not violate his or her probation. However, whether or not Riverside & San Bernardino County continue to give 50% credit for house arrest sentences is up to those respective counties.

S.C.R.A.M.: Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring (SCRAM) is very similar to the electronic monitoring mentioned above. However, SCRAM devices also monitor alcohol levels in the defendant's blood. With SCRAM, the defendant wears an ankle bracelet similar to the electronic monitoring bracelet except that if the defendant registers alcohol in his or her sweat then the SCRAM bracelet will record that evidence and remotely inform a probation officer and/or the district attorney.

The SCRAM alternative is usually not offered by itself because it is not considered much of a punishment to be ordered to abstain from consuming alcohol without any other penalty. Usually, the SCRAM device is ordered as part of the electronic monitoring bracelet (some bracelets can monitor both the defendant's location as well as the defendant's blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Private companies like LCA offer these combo style bracelets. Removing or tampering with the bracelet is a violation of probation.

The drawbacks to SCRAM bracelets is that the defendant cannot drink alcohol while wearing the bracelet and the bracelets themselves are unpleasant in appearance and comfort. In addition, the SCRAM bracelet costs are paid for by the defendant.

Work Release: This alternative to jail has the defendant work at a site which is determined by the probation department or the department of corrections for the county jail. Work release is another great alternative to jail where the prisoner gores to work in the daytime but then has no electronic monitoring at night.

Work release is probably the most commonly chosen option as a jail sentence alternative (if offered) for several reasons: 1) The credits off the defendant’s sentence that can be earned (50% off sentence for good behavior while on work release), 2) The fact that work release does not cost much money after the sign up (about $100), 3) The fact that the defendant is allowed to leave his or her house after work release is completed for the day, and 4) The fact that the work release sentence does not have to be served on consecutive days (For example, the defendant is usually given about ten months to serve sixty day work release sentence).

The drawback to a work release sentence include the fact that the defendant has to work all day for no money. Usually the work release program involves the defendant cleaning with Cal Trans, but cleaning fields around county jails is also popular for work release. For person with disabilities, non-manual labor may be an option.

Weekend Jail: This jail alternative is not really an alternative at all. It is simply dividing any jail time that is actually served in a way that allows the defendant to serve the time on the weekends only. For example. The defendant may check-in to a city jail on a Friday and check-out on Sunday. This allows the defendant freedom during the week but obviously no freedom on the weekends. The benefits of weekend jail is that the defendant will receive 50% credit for good time behavior. San Bernardino County does not offer weekend jail. However, a conviction in San Bernardino County that requires jail might be served out-of-county and on weekend jail in locations where that option is available.

Work Furlough: This sentencing alternative allows the defendant to keep his or her own job but the prisoner must check into a dormitory at night to sleep. This alternative is much like the weekend jail except that the weekends are spent in a dorm with other similarly situated defendants instead of a jail cell. Work furlough is not a popular jail alternative because the furlough programs are usually expensive and they are paid for by the defendant. In addition, work furlough is generally more restrictive than electronic monitoring.

Sober living: This jail alternative might be available for persons convicted of multiple DUIs where alcohol or drug rehabilitation is not working.  Basically, a defendant is placed with other similarly-situated defendants who live together and attend daily meetings designed to help the defendant fight his or her dependency to drugs or alcohol. Chores are usually assigned to the defendant and the defendant may not leave the facility. 

To learn more about jail alternatives, including electronic monitoring, work release, sober living, and more, contact our criminal defense attorneys today. There is no charge to talk with one of our criminal lawyers at a first-time in-house consultation. Call today!


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