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. steve

    im sorry but eveyone that commented on here that said they would take jail over church once a week is lying, or had a bad experience in church before. your saying that you would rather be put into jail for however long getting a hard small bed, bad food and all the guys you want rather then living at home, eating what you want and going where ever you want, when you want. I also saw a post towards the top that said something like, people who go to church already can get away with all misdemeners and commit crimes all day....first off, what makes you think that religious people are all off the sudden going to go on crime sprees? second, I doubt people that regularly go to church have never committed a crime in their lives. some ofthese posts grind my gears 🙂

    September 26, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • JT

      " I doubt people that regularly go to church have never committed a crime in their lives." You're not serious I hope. People who make such ignorant and stupid statements like this really grind my gears.

      September 26, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • towertech

      sure people who go to church never commit crimes. Hmmmm Catholic priests go every Sunday ask all the boys who's lives they wrecked if church going people never commit a crime.

      September 27, 2011 at 6:20 am | Report abuse |
  2. farthum

    I would totally take the church option, sing and pray, go to the picnics and eat Aunt B's pie (giggity). Then on my one year anniversary I'd poop on the church lawn and never be heard from again.

    September 26, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • gingersrule1

      And then you go to jail for defecating on the church's lawn and the evidence is in the pile of crap you left behind. I think it's a good thing. It's not like these people don't have the choice to opt out and go for the other programs of jail and fines. The church's main job as followers of The Way is to serve people by feeding their mouths and their spirits and helping them get their needs met. When you serve other people who are less fortunate than yourself it gives people insight into how happiness isn't determined by how much money or how many things you have. When you see people who are happy who have much much less than you it should give you perspective. Maybe you'll stop stealing or driving drunk. My brother almost killed two younger guys in a drunk driving car accident one time. It was completely my brothers fault. My brother actually once said to me that he thought he had more grace than most people because he and the two guys lived and most would have died. I tried to tell him that I think it's possible to use that grace up because if it weren't then all of us would be going to heaven. He disagrees. The grace of God is for people who are willing to turn their lives around and serve other people in a selfless way. So here's the deal. I think if people are exposed to a church that teaches selflessness I don't have a problem with that at all because look around. What do you see? I see a world full of selfish people. They are given the right to be selfish by God. Learning to be selfless is something each one of us has to choose and by becoming servants of good and serving other people we reap the benefits of grace because in that state love is realized as more powerful than anything God has ever created. Because love has no boundaries. I have no problem with this being an option to not paying fines or going to jail. If you read the Bible for yourself you will see that it's not as convicting as many preachers make it out to be. Serving one another should also not feel like such a burden. How do you get people to see that?

      September 26, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • pete

      @Gingersrule

      it's sad to me that you're wasting your life living for god in the anticipation of a postmortem reward when you have no presence to be the recipient of an eternal reward. Gingers don't have souls – everybody knows it. Jesus even said in Matthew 9:14 "Let the children come to me. Except that disgusting one with the hair of fire. For this disgusting child has been touched by Satan and bears the marks all over his face and his hair, red as hell-fire. Verily I say to you, that child and all of his pasty complexion and red hair hath no soul and may not enter my kingdom."

      September 27, 2011 at 1:26 am | Report abuse |
  3. dee

    What's sad about this is someday people who don't agree with these mentality may end up in jail, especially if this mentality has total control

    September 26, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Freddie

    When the Judge has control over your fate and he wants you to start believing and worshiping his god or he could take your freedom away, it's just scary and creepy at the same time. Separate your god from by business. Just stop it already. Go read your bible by yourself.

    September 26, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. JamesBenson

    "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."

    Where's the sane option? Why not several hours at a soup kitchen each week? Actually do some good instead of indoctrinating people? Frankly, I'd take jail. At least in there I could read what I wanted and think for myself.

    September 26, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Karen

      I'm with you! I'd take jail!

      September 26, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. OC

    As an atheist, I want to see the option to go to an atheist church (that is, sleeping in at home on Sundays).

    September 26, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tiller

      Typical!!!

      September 26, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kyle

    eh, yeah its the south, business as usual.

    September 26, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. T

    Hillbilly judges running amok. Trampling the Bill of Rights isn't patriotic Jed.

    September 26, 2011 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • wilbur

      A Community has rights. Where I live it would be jail. If I or someone I knew got in minor trouble it is NOT a bad option. After all....you can still pick jail if you got a prob with it... no right is being taken away here.

      September 26, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      Wilbur – yes, a right absolutely is. See the 14th amendment. Read the equal protection clause. Then think about how Christians are getting a get-out-of-jail free card and everyone else gets to go to jail. This, my friend, is criminal.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:21 am | Report abuse |
  9. Grime Reaper

    The ACLU claims the government can’t force participation in religious activity, but supports the claims the government can force participation in health insurance. HYPOCRITES!

    September 26, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      Fact: We're the only major 1st world country that can't solve the 3rd world problem of country-wide health coverage. It is estimated that 80% of Americans right now can't deal with a $1,000 emergency without going bankrupt. Fact: Health emergencies are the #2 cause of bankruptcy in the United States. Fact: the government can't legislate religious beliefs. Opinion (justified): right wingers like yourself oppose societal progress. It's a shame.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:24 am | Report abuse |
  10. Bama girl

    This sounds good,kinda win win, cut cost to tax payers and give some 2nt chances to a few maybe but what I think will happen is that Bay Minette will have a lot of small time drug dealers and all the problems that come with it move in With times as hard as is Who would not be tempted to make some fast cash if you only have to go to church if your busted-and who knows it might be a good spot for networking Just don't think it will do more than expose the sheltered kids in the pews to people they might not ever have to deal with

    September 26, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
  11. breeze94

    Forget them, don't give them this option, send them to jail.

    September 26, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. wilbur

    A Community has Rights. I am completely against religion as practiced but I have an open mind. I am willing to listen. If I got in trouble there I would honestly have no problem. I think that is very humane. Keep in mind,I got cutoff as candy99 for horrific anti-religion postings on cnn, haahaa but...this is good stuff, the way it should be. Oh, i was just trying to counter the anti-muslim stuff and tease n ancy g race...they cut you off for that.

    September 26, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Tom

    I heard this on the radio this afternoon and couldn't believe what I was hearing. This harkens back to a very dark time in 1936 or 37, in Germany when the German Lutheran Church became the Reichskirke....etc etc. I am sure this town and its elders mean well............but what happened to 'separation of church and state' folks. What happened to MY RIGHT TO CHOOSE TO WORSHIP OR NOT?

    September 26, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
  14. wilbur

    Hey Attention: NO RIGHT IS BEING TAKEN AWAY. AN OPTION IS BEING GIVEN IN ACCORDANCE WITH COMMUNITY NORMS. THE PERSON CAN REFUSE IT AND PICK JAIL IF HE/SHE GOT A PROB. AGAIN...NO RIGHT IS BEING TAKEN AWAY. AN OPTION IS BEING OFFERED. TAKE IT!

    September 26, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dennis

    Why is it the role of Alabamians to always embarrass Americans ? Anyone with any intelligence will know that the courts will overturn this law in a hearbeat.

    September 26, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • tzvikf

      Your assuming that there is intelligence in Alabama?

      September 26, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
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