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Between the ‘Home’ and ‘Institutional’ Worlds: Tensions and Contradictions in the Practice of House Arrest

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Abstract

In this paper we argue that the theoretical work of Goffman (1961) on “total institutions,” Foucault’s (1977) insights into the workings of disciplinary power, and an account of contemporary forms of punishment and social control in postmodern society (Staples 2000) help us better understand the experiences of those individuals sentenced to house arrest. Based on face-to-face interviews with twenty-three people being electronically monitored in a Midwestern metropolitan area, our analysis identifies three themes that illustrate the ways in which electronic monitoring is experienced as a complex amalgam of what Goffman (1961, p. 13) saw as the distinct “home world” and the “institutional world”. These themes include (1) “Home is Where the Machine Is,” (2) “Producing Docile Bodies,” and (3) “Threat of Sanctions”. We reassert our claim (Staples 1994, 2000) that contemporary forms of social control such as electronic monitoring reflect an ongoing struggle to deal with problems and issues set in motion with the birth of modernity.

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Notes

  1. The research protocol was conducted within the ethical and procedural guidelines set out by the Human Subjects Committee of the University of Kansas, the American Correctional Association, and the American Sociological Association.

  2. For an investigation of interpreting the contradictory remarks of research participants, see Power (2004).

  3. The original and commonly used form of electronically monitoring involves deploying a small radio transmitter that is typically attached to the ankle of the offender. A monitoring box is placed in the home and the arrestee cannot stray more than 150 feet or so from the box without triggering a violation that is recorded by a central computer. Sometimes called “tagging,” the idea is credited to a New Mexico district court judge who was supposedly inspired by the use of a similar device in a 1979 Spiderman comic strip (Klein-Saffran 1992).

  4. The results have been mixed. In a recent meta-analysis of this literature, Layton MacKenzie (2006, p. 322) concludes that, “A large body of research, including random assignment studies, consistently shows the failure of ISP [Intensive Supervision Programs] and EM [Electronic Monitoring] programs to lower recidivism… The increased surveillance may actually increase the probability of detection and, thus, result in more technical violations”.

  5. Postmodern social control techniques may be characterized as: (1) systematic, methodical, impersonal, technologically-driven and automatic in operation; (2) often involving the body and enhance visibility to others and make the human body infinitely more accessible to official scrutiny and assessment; (3) often impose a framework of accountability on an individual in everyday life; and finally, (4) as they are localized in everyday life, many new forms of social control blur the distinction between the official deviant and the likely offender (for more detail, see Staples 2000, pp. 1–13).

  6. In the year 2000, 1,048 adult clients participated in the program with about 80–100 individuals monitored at any given time but with relatively high turnover; the typical house arrest sentence lasted between 30 and 90 days. Males accounted for 81% of the cases. The majority, 68%, were sentenced directly to the house arrest program. Other participants were placed on house arrest as a condition of a bond, pending a probation violation hearing, as an internal sanction of the Intensive Supervision Probation program, or as part of a conditional release agreement from a residential/work release program. Felony offenders accounted for 34% of the 1,048 adult clients (n = 361), 30% of which were DUI cases, 19% burglary/theft, and 18% drug possession. Of the misdemeanor cases served (n = 687), 50% were DUI, 18% were theft/larceny, and 16% were drug possession charges. Clients were charged $12.00 per day for the house arrest monitoring and $17.00 per drug test. The program collected more than $211,000 in “fees” from clients in 2000.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Gary Marx and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions and Lizette Peter for her editorial assistance.

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Correspondence to William G. Staples.

Appendix #1 Interview Guide

Appendix #1 Interview Guide

  1. 1.

    Is this the first time you have been on House Arrest?

  2. 2.

    How long have you been on House Arrest (this time)?

  3. 3.

    Please describe the conditions of your House Arrest (curfew hours, work/school schedule, etc.)

  4. 4.

    Describe for me what it is like living under house arrest. How do you feel about it?

  5. 5.

    Do you ever feel nervous or anxious on House Arrest?

  6. 6.

    Do you feel “watched” or “controlled” by House Arrest?

  7. 7.

    Are you resentful about it?

  8. 8.

    If you live with someone, do you think they are affected by the monitoring? If yes, How so?

  9. 9.

    Do you think others (family, friends etc.) have become “watchers” of you?

  10. 10.

    “Compare house arrest with being in jail.” How are they similar? Different?

  11. 11.

    Do you have any final thoughts or feeling about your experience with House Arrest that you would like to share?

Optional: How do you feel about the UA’s, drug testing?

Background information: age, married, live with (self, family, etc.), occupation.

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Staples, W.G., Decker, S.K. Between the ‘Home’ and ‘Institutional’ Worlds: Tensions and Contradictions in the Practice of House Arrest. Crit Crim 18, 1–20 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10612-009-9089-5

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