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. jojo

    Chances are they already go to church every week....so what they are saying is that it is okay to break the law as long as you are christian and go to church.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
  2. jojo

    Chances are they already go to church...this is essentially saying that its okay to break the law as long as you are christian.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Marv

      Especially if you victimize a heathen. Then you are just doing god's work. Praise white jesus!

      September 28, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dirty Harry

      Gee when you think some of the bigger white-collar criminals were evangelists fleecing the flock. What a better place to hang out if you are a con-man and what to refine your craft in pulling the Jesus card to lull your next victim.

      September 28, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Dustin

    I'd take jail...

    September 28, 2011 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
  4. Dina

    I can't believe this is legal. It is so discriminatory.

    September 28, 2011 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Jonathan

      How? If they don't want to go to a church they can either pay the fine or just serve a short amount of time in jail. And it is only for those who do things like spray paint a wall or get in a fist fight at a club or something, no murderers or rapists allowed. And if they do decide to go to a church they even get to choose which one they can go to, no one says which one they have. That means that a Muslim can go to his mosque, the Jew to his synagogue, or the christian to his pew for a year. Or spend one to two weeks in jail if that's what he wants, I really don't see what the problem is?

      September 30, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Scared

    Talk about a violation of the "establishment of religion" clause. This is about as un-american as you can get!

    September 28, 2011 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
  6. Robert H

    Of course, it must be an approved christian church.
    Otherwise the offender could just go to the "Church of Get Drunk Saturday Night"
    So, the judge wants to force people to be not only christian, but his extact approved version of christian.

    America, land of the formerly free and home of the previously brave.

    September 28, 2011 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jailcosts$$$$

    I like it!!!!! no LOve it!!!

    September 28, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Suralin

    Oddly enough (coming from a liberal type like myself) I think this might be worth a try. I agree there are church/state separation issues that need to be looked into, but Alabama's a religious enough area that this idea *might* actually work.

    In the spirit of science and experimentation, we may as well let 'em give it a shot. If the data shows that it doesn't work, then there's nothing forcing anyone else to adopt these measures. And if it does, then communities across the nation have more options to prevent recidivism.

    September 29, 2011 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
    • William Demuth

      Don't be silly.

      Recidivisim? Guantanamo dosen't even stop that.

      This is basicly offering indoctrination as a way to avoid incarceration.

      Exactly what is done in North Korea!

      Worship Jesus or the state will punish you.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Mbarco

      No the punishment is for the crime they've committed....the church attendance is just an option. If they dont like it , then they have the free will to pay for their crime in jail.

      September 29, 2011 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  9. The Donger

    And what if the offender is not a christian, but can't afford the fine? They won't have a choice.

    September 29, 2011 at 2:27 am | Report abuse |
  10. William Demuth

    This is illegal.

    Clearly violates the first ammendement.

    Suppose some Judge said the Red Necks had to attend a Mosque or a Synangouge insted?

    The Red Necks would lynch him, and then their preachers would bugger his corpse.

    September 29, 2011 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
  11. desultoryphilippic

    http://desultoryphilippic.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/jail-or-church-you-choose/

    September 29, 2011 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  12. Madoc

    Id say this would be a good idea if they were able to choose which faith (Or for those with lack of faith in anything, A support group) and get help with what is going on in their life. The judge is doing it all wrong imo.

    September 29, 2011 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
  13. Farah

    now im a Christian who believes in Jesus Christ and this is simply wrong !

    September 29, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Ashley

    I agree this violates "the establishment of religion clause. This is about as un-american as you can get!" posted by Scared. I also agree with William Demuth. Whose to say the "criminal" attends church, meets "new possible victims" and becomes resentful and or vindictive and decides to attach the church, the people who gave them the choice, etc...

    I am not a person who believes Religion can heal all. I believe everyone has a choice but why burden the people who attend church for their own worship. It could be setting your town and or community up for disaster. If I did attend church and the church I attended started a program such as this I'd never attend Sunday's. I am very open minded to other peoples religion but if it was me, I'd choose Jail.

    September 30, 2011 at 4:25 am | Report abuse |
  15. tami

    i love the idea. i wish they had this in wisconsin

    September 30, 2011 at 5:53 am | Report abuse |
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