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. Shawnteefa

    Great send people to church where they can be fondled and brainwashed

    September 26, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • liza

      yeah 'cause that stuff doesn't happen in prison. Much nicer there.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • frankblourtango

      Yeah. You should think it out before you say something. Which will probably never happen

      September 26, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
  2. liza

    I think the fact that it cost money to keep someone incarcerated – even for a short time – makes this a pretty good deal for the town. The article didn't tell us specifically what types of crimes or how many people a year might have to make this choice so it's sort of silly to get worked up over it either way.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Paul

      So, is the unspoken message here that religion is a punishment?

      September 26, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • liza

      Well for some people, making a commitment to attend church every week might actually seem like a punishment. But that said, there just might be a few people who get something out of it and might make a better choice the next time around. Sounds better than jail to me.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al Gore

      Community service would be an even better option. Sending someone to church insinuates they need Jesus to get themselves straight. Doesn't seem to have done much straightening for a lot of the right, has it?

      September 26, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Marcellus Dennis

    Sometimes good intentions are flawed.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Chris

    I'd choose jail for sure. Or opt for the madhouse/church option and then demand, as an atheist, an alternative which does not infringe on my first amendment rights. I would then assert that since atheists have no house of worship, I'd just have to spend the sentence at my house. Where I would totally reflect on my crimes. While playing videogames and serving out my "sentence".

    September 26, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Henry

    Because no regular church attendee has ever committed a crime.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Benjamin

    So much for that first amendment...

    September 26, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. NS

    Whats the difference?

    September 26, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. William Allen

    When I was 15 I was arrested for public intoxication and carrying a concealed weapon. I started going to church. It met so many needs. I had people that cared about me and it made all the difference in the world. I quit the drugs, the drinking, made new friends and started doing healthier activities. My grades went up in school and I eventual went to college and graduated. At 15 I figured I'd be in jail by the time I was 18.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Chris

      Glad to hear you got straightened out. But it probably wasn't religion that did it, it was more the meeting people who had common interests, making friends and being in a structured environment rather than on "the street". I would expect you'd have had similar results with little league, a/v club, or a summer camp.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      i've never done drugs or gotten in trouble with th law. I dont drink, heck ive never even smoked a cigarette. And I did all of that without god.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. frankblourtango

    I have to admit. This is not a bad idea. Don't forget we are talking about a misdemeanor. When you get busted for that the message is, "Hey, I need to slow down and think things through."
    There are cute women all dressed up at church. Are you feelin me?

    September 26, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Henry Miller

    "Police Chief Mike Rowland said the measure is one that would help save money and help direct people down the right path."

    Typical religious arrogance to claim that religion is "the right path."

    September 26, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • liza

      He probably meant the right path vs committing any more crimes. Making better choices. Thou shalt not steal and all that. Sounds better than jail but it's a choice.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. logical guy

    Separation of church and state anyone? Anyone? Oh yeah...thats right...this is the south we're talking about here. Never mind...

    September 26, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • liza

      Well, as the article states, the person can choose jail time instead. They aren't forced to go to church.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ichorrid

    I would opt for the church thing, but only because I'm broke and afraid of jail time.
    It wouldn't be hard to fake it for a year. Not much different than community service.

    Oh no. I have to go to church, sit in the back, and fall asleep listening to my headphones for a year.

    September 26, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Dorkus

    Everyone should be required, forced if necessary, to attend the church of either Sarah Palin's, Michelle Bachmann's or Dick Perry's choice. That would solve all of the problems of our country, both real and imagined.

    September 26, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Seth Hill

    I just thought of a great business to start in this community!

    September 26, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. MommaMarti

    Can a person choose a synagogue, a mosque or a coven?

    September 26, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • O.S. Bird

      They might grudgingly go for a synagogue (though I doubt it), but never a mosque. Religious freedom and all that, don't you know?

      September 26, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian Emmons

      A coven? Are you for real? In most States witchcraft is illegal, or ought to be, witches usually hide in corners and inflict infatuation, mental illness, depression, and mind games on the unsuspecting which is cohersion and baiting, criminals don't need to learn that ........

      September 26, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Brian Emmons, you are seriously misleading yourself and others. Witchcraft is not illegal, first off. Most "witches" are decent people, and not the evil people you make them out to be, they just happen to practice paganism.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      You against giving them that 'choice' Brian?

      September 26, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • JT

      If you read the article you would know that there are only Christian churches in this town. Christians are very crafty and know how to manipulate rules and laws in order to force indoctrination into their cult.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian Hartman

      The article says there's no synagogue or mosque in the community.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Max

      @Emmons... Wicca is not illegal anywhere in the US. The rule of Wicca is do not harm, which is more than I can say for the god of the Christians. I suppose I shouldn't harp on Christians so much and I'll be happy to stop and let them meander on in their lives when they stop trying to pass laws forcing me or people like me to agree with them. This law is just another bit like that.. take a permanent hit to your record and lose days of your life or sit in a Christian Church every week. Disgusting.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
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