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. leeintulsa

    @duh: you're not getting it.

    What would you do if you were arrested, some misdemeanor. You could pay a fine, go to jail, or spend a year going to the mosque. You choose the fine or jail. You now have a criminal record.

    A muslim guy did the same thing, went to the mosque, crime completely dismissed, no record.

    That sounds fair to you? Do you realize how taliban that is of you?

    September 26, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • pc

      lol you make no sense.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • jay zee

      he makes perfect sense. change the option for church to mosque and see how many people still pick mosque over jail. you will be surprised.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Pirate

    FAIL! What happened to separation of church and state? Why not weekly worship of the Great Flying Spaghetti Monster instead?

    September 26, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JOS

    Church as punishment? Sounds about right.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al

      LOL!!! You and I must've gone to the same church....

      September 26, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Shawn

    Ok, the director of the ACLU is crazy. They should be given another option besides church. I can't believe the ACLU's stance on this! Yeah it's an option but if they don't take the option they go to jail. CHURCH SHOULD NOT BE AN OPTION, PERIOD.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ryan

    This must be a catholic church: "Pray for a bike, walk all day...steal a bike, pray for forgiveness!" I'm so, SO, ___SO___ proud and happy to be an atheist and a freethinker. The neo-religious "flavor" of America is really frustrating these days, though. Whatever happened to Give me liberty, or give me death?! "Here is your liberty, just worship my God." I couldn't go to Church, that would be lying under oath.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Leafonthewind

    It amazes me how many people on this thread don't get it. It isn't about going to jail or paying a fine, it's about having the charge dismissed, meaning no criminal record. This is no option at all, just a blatant effort to force their beliefs on others.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laughing hard

      Pressing the "like" button repeatedly (again)

      September 26, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. TJ

    The latest scientific studies in criminality indicate contrition/remorse/guilt to have utterly no impact on recidivism; in other words, moral boot camp has no bearing on the likelihood they will commit crime.

    What does have an effect is building life structure, strengthening relationships, and removing the burden of making hard decisions by coercing those slanting toward criminality to adopt daily routines. In this sense, a forced religiosity may help.

    Sadly, this policy seems motivated by things other than studies in criminology. The sad part is, there is scientific research on what does and does not work, and the town chooses to ignore it.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
  8. essgee

    Just cross your fingers and hope that the misdemeanor offenders don't end up at a church where the priest/pastor who is meant to put them on the right path is not himself a tax cheat/embezzler/bigot/adulterer/pedophile...good luck.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. DN3

    Hahaha! Sentenced to a year in church? hahahaha

    September 26, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      lol talk about hard time.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Confused

    In all seriousness, what would happen to those criminals who already go to church every sunday? We are talking about misdemeanors here. Not violent crimes. So there is a chance that a lot of people already go to church and this is not a punishment at all. Just because you go to church does not mean that you will find Jesus and it certainly doesn't mean you will all of the sudden become a better person. The whole thing just seems a little optimistic.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Darth Cheney

    Integration of church in state.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Hooligan

    wow... there are about a dozen laws here being broken... good Job small Podunk town in Alabama

    September 26, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • jay zee

      its alabama what do you expect? bunch of backwards folk out there anyway!

      September 26, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jo

    I think it's a great idea. I myself do not go to church. But if someone gets in trouble and realizes they made a mistake or want to try and change their life then they finally have the chance to do so. If you don't like it well I have GREAT news for you..... GO TO JAIL! But I am sure that there are alot of people of all ages that do things they wish they could go back and change. Well this is their opportunity to do so AND make it go off their records. If your an atheist well then don't read the article and just spend your time in jail.

    It amazes me that people who claim they are atheist are always drawn to something talking about God... Like everyone in here saying they are atheist.... Well why did you read the article then.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hooligan

      It amazes you that we are drawn to studies and reports about idiots using faith as a way to control our country and our desire to expose it for the nonsense it is?

      Yeah... ok.. I guess that makes sense if you are a complete retard.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • JOS

      Why talk about a god? Probably because a good joke is just too hard to pass up.

      Seriously though, if you kept your fairy tales to yourselves, then you'd most likely never hear a peep about the issue... But the problem is you don't. You insist on parading your fables around on the public dime as if it were fact, forcing everyone else to "fall in line" with zero evidence to support WHY they should do so.

      Stop using tax dollars to pay for your delusional fantasies, and you'll see things start to turn around.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • jay zee

      so we can read your stupid comments!

      September 26, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • jay zee

      you see... atheists are free thinkers and are not tied down to an ideology or ignorance. just because we read things about god, or religion just means were are probably more educated on god then people who go to church!

      September 26, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Dr.K.

    Consider it this way: You are in legal trouble, but I (the judge) will make it all go away if you agree to participate in my religion. This is not only a violation of the First Amendment, it is an egregious abuse of power.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hooligan

      I truly hope someone who is standing trial informs the "judge" that he is breaking the law while pretending to enforce it.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jo

      the judge cannot determine what church the offender will attend. Why don't you go back and read it. It is the offenders choice as to what church and what religion they will attend. God the ignorance of american people continues to amaze me. God bless the U.S.A.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hooligan

      @ Jo

      it's more ignorant to let someone off the hook for a crime by "praying about it"

      wanna point at people being stupid? Look at the brain trust that came up with this scheme.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr.K.

      Jo, the ignorance astounds me too. Not everyone chooses to attend a church or submit to a religion. We have that right, ya know?

      And what's up with "the ignorance of american people amazes me" followed by "God bless the USA?" Are you celebrating ignorance, or just ignorant of your own irony?

      September 26, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Laughing hard

    Oh lord; Please save me from your followers.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leafonthewind

      Amen!

      September 26, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • JESUSisLORD

      That is not what you need saving from.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
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