As states across the nation face overcrowded jails and rising costs for incarcerating inmates, many states now use electronic monitors – “ankle bracelets” – as an effective way to keep tabs on convicted offenders while freeing up jail space. “We get them back into the community where they can work, they pay taxes, they have access to community services,” Ann Toyer of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections told National Public Radio. “If we can get them back into the community, get them working, they can pay for those services,” Ms. Toyer explained.

In the California criminal court system, “alternative sentencing” describes the criminal sentences that are handed down as alternatives to time behind bars. Instead of going to jail, a convicted offender might be sentenced, for example, to house arrest with the aid of electronic monitoring. Alternative sentencing also includes various community service programs such as work release and roadside cleanup projects. Alternative sentences are intended to provide both punishment and rehabilitation. Judges in California try to impose appropriate alternative sentences that fit an offender’s crime.

Technology has given the California criminal court system a number of sentencing alternatives. House arrest – that is, “supervised electronic confinement” – provides greater sentencing flexibility so that offenders convicted of certain crimes may continue their employment or educations, live in their communities, and take part in court-ordered programs (such as DUI classes or drug treatment) in a community environment.

Which defendants may qualify for alternative sentencing? Offenders who did not commit serious, violent, or multiple crimes and who do not present a risk to the community or to themselves may be eligible for alternative sentencing.

WHO IS REQUIRED FOR SUPERVISED ELECTRONIC CONFINEMENT?

Acceptance of any particular offender into the supervised electronic confinement program is at the court’s discretion. If you are convicted of a crime in southern California, an experienced Orange County criminal defense attorney can argue on your behalf for supervised electronic confinement, particularly if you are physically impaired or disabled in a way that would make a jail term impractical or hazardous for you.

To qualify for house arrest, you must:

– be sentenced to time in a county jail
– be a nonviolent offender
– have a residence in or near the county where you were sentenced
– have a telephone in the residence
– agree to the supervised electronic confinement rules
– pay for the extra cost of supervised electronic confinement

The cost of supervised electronic confinement can be as much as $12 or $15 a day, but offenders are charged on a sliding scale based on income and ability to pay. Offenders on supervised electronic confinement do not earn good behavior credits but must serve the entire length of the sentence handed down by the judge. Ability to pay is not a consideration for acceptance in the program.

PRECISELY HOW DOES THE ANKLE BRACELET WORK?

The electronic ankle bracelet is what makes supervised electronic confinement possible, and it must be worn at all times. It cannot be submerged, so offenders will have to be satisfied with showers rather than baths, and no swimming can be allowed. Bracelets must be recharged twice daily, and allowing an ankle bracelet to run out of power is a violation of the terms and conditions of supervised electronic confinement.

Offenders sentenced to supervised electronic confinement are monitored by the county probation department. Offenders must meet routinely with a probation officer and demonstrate compliance with all terms and conditions of the supervised electronic confinement program. Violations include “perimeter” violations (leaving home without an approved reason), curfew violations, and damage to the electronic equipment. Serious violations can result in an immediate arrest and expulsion from the program.

Supervised electronic confinement is not the only alternative sentencing option used by the courts in California. Offenders sentenced to a work release or work furlough program are ordered to a specific job site each day and expected to perform physical labor. Participants may return home at the end of the day, or they return to the residential facility where they are receiving counseling and treatment.

WHAT IS A DIVERSION PROGRAM? HOW DOES IT WORK?

Supervised electronic confinement programs and work release or work furlough programs are options for certain offenders who have been convicted of certain non-violent crimes, but some first-time offenders may have other options that will actually allow them to avoid a criminal conviction. Since 2014, an adult defendant who enters a no contest or guilty plea to certain drug or drug-related non-violent misdemeanors may qualify for a diversion program. These programs usually allow first-time offenders who successfully complete treatment sessions or alcohol and drug education classes to avoid having a criminal conviction.

However, for adults under California law, only those defendants facing drug-related misdemeanor charges can qualify for a diversion program. An adult facing charges for a crime of violence, a sex crime, or driving under the influence, anyone with a prior conviction for a violent crime, and any past participant in a diversion program is not eligible. In some cases involving juveniles, diversion may be available for some first-time juvenile defendants facing even more serious charges.

And for some criminal charges in California, a first-time offender might be offered a “deferred entry of judgment,” which is somewhat similar to diversion. To take advantage of deferred entry of judgment, a defendant must plead guilty and – among other requirements – successfully complete an 18-to-36-month court-ordered counseling and treatment program. If the requirements for a deferred entry of judgment are not satisfied, the conviction stands. If the requirements are satisfied, the charge is dismissed.

California criminal law is complicated. It’s easy to get confused just by the terminology and by the variety of sentencing options now available to California courts. In Southern California, if you are charged with any crime – any felony or misdemeanor – you should know that legal help is available and that an experienced Orange County criminal defense attorney can explain your options, protect your rights, and aggressively fight for the best conclusion to your criminal case.

If you sincerely believe that you are not guilty of a criminal charge, an experienced Orange County criminal defense attorney will fight on your behalf for a dismissal of the charge or for a not guilty verdict. However, if the state’s case against you is persuasive and a conviction is sure, your attorney can explain your plea options and work for a just and appropriate alternative sentence. Many of those who have been sentenced to treatment and counseling have taken advantage of alternative sentencing, dealt with their alcohol and drug issues, and have moved ahead positively and constructively with their lives.