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. Dr.K.

    Why church? Religion has never been shown to reduce crime. If it does, why do the Bible Belt states have the highest crime rates, highest poverty rates, etc? Why do all the homicidal drug lords in Mexico have patron saints? Why do muslim extremists yell "Allah akbar?"

    How about some options that HAVE been shown to reduce crime. How about education – why not have people enroll in a community college course on critical thinking, or political science, or civic responsibility as an alternative to jail time?

    September 26, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. clearfog

    Pew

    September 26, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jeff

    Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s. These nuts who try to cram religion down people's throats forget about this verse at Matthew 22:21. These people broke man's law, so forced churchgoing should not be an alternative to jail time. And, yes, I am Christian, but object to these measures that resemble the tip of the Spanish Inquisition in getting people to go to church.

    September 26, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darthlawsuit

      No one is forcing anyone to go to church. It is a choice. Choices and freedom to make your choices are the american way. I see no issues here.

      Now if it was mandatory there would be a problem

      September 27, 2011 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
    • GoodShepard

      You're not a christian, because if you were you would believe that it is fundamentally good and something that could be beneficial to turning a young person's life around, no christian would object to offering the CHOICE for someone to hear the word of god and or participate in the charitable works of the church as a option that they are free too choose to take. An individual in trouble can go to jail or pay a fine if they aren't habitual offenders more often than not they can get do community service as a way to pay the fine. The church is there to serve the community, let it serve. Nobody would equate this to no spanish inquisition, its not the tip of anything, church options to jail are not new in america by a longshot.

      If america is about freedom, why would you want to restrict the freedom to choose?

      September 27, 2011 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      There should be a reading comprehension test before people are allowed to comment. They're not forcing people to go to church (it's one of the choices) nor letting people off of charges greater than a non-violent misdemeanor.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
  4. 500 Questions

    Supposedly there are fewer Atheists in prison... maybe it would be more effective to de-convert them? Maybe spend Sundays reading Richard Dawkins?

    September 26, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darthlawsuit

      I agree. We must teach them that the strong will rule and the weak will be exploited and ruled! That is the natural order!

      September 26, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • popejon

      Darthlawsuit, did you even read the article? Ok, have no record if I go to church every Sunday for a year. Then I choose to pay a fine and have no record. Oh wait, that's not a choice. Ok, I choose to go to jail and have no record. Oh wait, that's not a choice... Ok I'm Jewish and I want to go to a Synagogue. Sorry, no Synagogues in town. So how much of a fair choice is this really?

      September 27, 2011 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  5. jlhale

    Choose the crime, choose the punishment, choose the religion, sounds fair to me.

    September 26, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • SB

      They don't get to choose the religion. They get to choose form 56 churches in the area. No synagogues or mosques.

      September 26, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Rusty Pewbs

    I pray to God I never have to go to Church!

    September 26, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. deerobb

    This sounds great !!!!

    September 26, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. bendayho

    Sure. Everybody's cool with this until the collection plate goes missing. There will be much less cheek turning.

    September 26, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Josh

    Pros:
    – Keeping nonviolent offenders out of our overcrowded prisons

    Cons:
    – You have to go to Church
    – Flirts with church and state
    – Christianity is the only option [Its 'Bama, I don't think they would give you another choice there]

    September 26, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bao

    This isn't any different than the deterrence programs for drug and alcohol related offenses where they give you the option of jail, or Alcohol/Narcotics Anonymous. Those are filled with religious zealots with the belief you can pray your alcoholism and drug addiction away in 12 easy steps. Doing drugs to see stuff that isn't there isn't there is pretty much the same thing as going to church to talk to someone who isn't there I suppose.

    September 26, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Louie

    I'd rather pay the fine.

    September 26, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Smokeherring

    Great Idea.

    I don't want my tax dollars pay for incarceration. Prisoners must pay for their incarceration.

    September 26, 2011 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
  13. GoodShepard

    Liberals cry on the internet 24/7 about damn near anything christian but have a lot of trouble actually making it to the voting booth when it counts like midterm elections. It's amazing the arguments that come forth on the blogs, this a one town utilizing a resource they have at their disposal to try to turn young people's lives around. Blatantly generalizing and discriminating against people you never met from a town you never been too dealing with a problem you don't quite understand the dynamics of is wrong. Guess what bigotry is bigotry and religion isn't going anywhere so if you can't learn to live with people having the option to exercise religion realize the only thing you are accomplishing is dividing america and pitting religious vs anti-religious as if they're mortal enemies. I'm a christian i have friends that are atheist, agnostic, muslim and sikh we can all get along fine, i don't understand why you anti-religious types insist on trying to pick a fight with christian's all day and try to paint most or all christian's as evil its lies, its propaganda, its bigotry and has to stop. Also you cannot continue to ignore the fact that half of christian's in america are democrats and many of those people are liberal. Do you really think that gay marriage could have ever passed in new york if the 84 percent of the population which is christian of which 43 percent of the population is catholic had been completely against it?
    Think about the facts, a lot of the countries that liberals look up too as models for america too look up to socially like switzerland and canada are just as religious as america , canada is even more religious than the u.s statistically and has been so for generations, so stop scapegoating religion everyday for your social issues and stop making a huge deal about little stories like this, that don't mean much except for a opportunity to religion bash.

    September 26, 2011 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Louie

      A Christian talking about facts. Now that is funny.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      "bigotry is bigotry and religion isn't going anywhere so if you can't learn to live with people having the option to exercise religion realize the only thing you are accomplishing is dividing america and pitting religious vs anti-religious as if they're mortal enemies."

      To that, sir, I say... god forbid we oppress the oppressors! Must be nice to be at the top, in the majority. How does a taste of your own medicine feel? Atheists 0, Christians 20. The 21st century, though, will be ours!

      September 27, 2011 at 1:45 am | Report abuse |
  14. Ben

    "....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." CHOICE being the key word here. You don't have to choose church. I thought pro Choice was the way you guys rolled. Why are you all complaining ?

    September 26, 2011 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • popejon

      Ok, have no record if I go to church every Sunday for a year. Then I choose to pay a fine and have no record. Oh wait, that's not a choice. Ok, I choose to go to jail and have no record. Oh wait, that's not a choice... Ok I'm Jewish and I want to go to a Synagogue. Sorry, no Synagogues in town. So how much of a fair choice is this really?

      September 27, 2011 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
  15. soonerstew

    ACLU is a JOKE !!!!! All that so-called organization does is stir up racism ! Talk about an ignorant bunch of people...that is the ACLU !

    September 26, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Report abuse |
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