Jesus or jail? Alabama town offers options for serving time
September 26th, 2011
03:47 PM ET

Jesus or jail? Alabama town offers options for serving time

If you're charged with a nonviolent crime in one Alabama town, you might just have the chance to pray it all away.

Starting this week, under a new program called Operation ROC (Restore Our Community), local judges in Bay Minette, Alabama, will give those found guilty of misdemeanors the choice of serving out their time in jail, paying a fine or attending church each Sunday for a year.

The goal of the program is to help steer those who are not yet hardened criminals the chance to turn their lives around. Those who choose to go to church (there are no mosques or synagogues in the area) will have to check in with a pastor and the police department each week, CNN affiliate WKRG reported. Once you attend church every week for a year the case would be dismissed.

Police Chief Mike Rowland said the measure is one that would help save money and help direct people down the right path. Rowland told WKRG it costs $75 a day to house each inmate.

"Longevity is the key," he told WKRG.

He said he believes 30-day drug programs don't have the long-term capabilities to heal someone in the ways the ROC program might.

Police in the town said they think it is a simple choice, but others think it's a choice that shouldn't even be offered.

The ACLU in Alabama said the idea is "blatantly unconstitutional," according to the Alabama Press-Register.

"It violates one basic tenet of the Constitution, namely that government can’t force participation in religious activity," Olivia Turner, executive director for the ACLU of Alabama told the paper.

Rowland acknowledged there were concerns about separation of church and state complaints but said he didn't see it as too big of a problem because offenders weren't being forced to attend church, they are just being given the option.

The offenders who voluntarily choose church over jail get to pick the churches they attend. If they complete a year’s attendance, Rowland said, their criminal case would be dismissed.

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Filed under: Crime • Religion
soundoff (1,515 Responses)
  1. TonyV

    Would the Church of Satan qualify?

    September 26, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Betty Anne

      @TonyV – Is there a Church of Satan in that town? I'm guessing not – the article already said there is no mosque or synagogue.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darth Vadik, CA

      Betty, in that case you can not offer one type of deal for Christian church goes and another to people of non-Christian or no faith.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darth Vadik, CA

      *goers

      September 26, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rankdaddy984

    You wanna see some rehabilitation?....offer them a year of sitting in ACLU meetings every week....Man, that would straighten me right up!

    September 26, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Darth Vadik, CA

    Actually, I am all for this if you offer the people the choice of attending Mosques, Synagogues, Temples, other religious houses and of course a non-faith based program of "morality and behavior".

    September 26, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      @darth: if it was open to all, i could get behind something like that..

      September 26, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. BL

    Isn't being stuck in the h hole of Alabama considered cruel and unusual punishment?

    September 26, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chitown Jason

      lol...solid point

      September 26, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cricket

      Such a biased comment. It's not called "Alabama the Beautiful" for nothing. You obviously have never been there. So where are you from and why is it so great?

      September 27, 2011 at 8:02 am | Report abuse |
  5. pdfsmail

    LET them do it.. they are not being FORCED to VOLUNTARILY choose to do that, they have 2 other choices... (forced is have no choice and that's the only choice)... jail or a fine, mind you they have a year of Sundays they must do which is very time consuming. Though I may not "believe" in that choice, others may find it more appealing. People need to learn what words like forced and voluntarily mean. And for the Christian and Atheists.. get a grip you both force things on each other just as much as the other... banish one and banish the other, you will make my life much more peaceful than listening to you blockhead bicker about one side forcing things onto the other – how can I respect your opinion if you can't even understand that not everyone shares the same belief as you.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • helicohunter

      Voluntary? What if someone is a poor non-Christian? They can either violate their principles (lie) or sit in jail. What kind of choice is that? Since the penalty for not choosing the church option is clearly higher, the policy is extremely coercive. I don't think we should be encouraging people to lie.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Eric

    Welcome to Alabama. Turn your watch back 60 years.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anomic Office Drone

      60 years? Maybe if you're starting in 1950.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cricket

      Welcome to "Eric's perception of" Alabama. Turn your clock's back 60 years.

      September 27, 2011 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
  7. Tim

    Olivia Turner (executive director for the ACLU) should read the back of her dollar bills, it says "IN GOD WE TRUST". If she wants to distance herself from that message, she can donate her cash to the poor.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Brent

    Ha – what if the criminals bring the church members to a life of crime instead?

    September 26, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Moishe

    I doubt there are many Jews in Bay Minette (just because there are no synagogues, does not mean there are no Jews). But, given the possibility there are a few, I would hope that they do not commit any misdemeanors. Nevertheless, if they do, they should be given the choice to go to a synagogue of their choice in Mobile, AL or not forced to become Christians, as an alternative to jail time and/or fines.

    What is wrong with religion, folks? As long, as we are not pushing people towards cults, racism, or violent extremist philosophies, as is the case in some prisons around the country I(not the prison system's fault, but extremists do recruit prisoners), I see no problem with pushing them to become more observant in their faiths.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • enoch

      Religion by its very nature is divisive. It also happens to be based on ignorance, but whatever.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Kuwait_999

    Thank you Alabama. May Jesus bless your state and your country!

    September 26, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jack Pearl

    They might actually be on to something, but it will probably be shot down in the courts.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  12. enoch

    Stupid people doing scary things.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Chitown Jason

    LOL nevermind the absurdity of this decision from a government vs. religion standpoint...this is like an invitation to commit a non-violent crime. The worst that can happen is to have to attend church for a year!

    September 26, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Aidan

    Freethought churches should be an option too. They should be allowed to hear how stupid god based religions are. They should be taught from Richard Dawkins' god delusion, perhaps the judge needs to read it too!

    September 26, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. pastafaria

    Christianity is a life sentence and a lobotomy rolled into one. Don't fall for it – just suck it up, do your time and when you are done you can walk out of prison with your head held high knowing that, unlike every Christian who ever lived, you're still your own man.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • PlagueDoc

      Agreed. On the first Sunday after being released, those who choose prison will experience a degree of freedom that is beyond the comprehension of a typical Christian.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
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