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 (1,514 Responses)
  1. Randy

    Speaking as a Christian, it is unfortunate that these people will be facing corruption (monetary and spiritually) in the churches and will be turned off true Christianity by the 'Sunday morning Christians'.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Ah yes. Let your elitism shine. You are a true Christian. Look down on those sinning Sunday morning Christians. You are better then they are. They don't know God like you do. Except of course that you violate his teachings by thinking that way. But we will ignore that!

      September 26, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Aaron

    Drug addicts need professional help. A group hug and devotion to people that don't exist doesn't cure a heroin problem.

    This is why Alabama is Alabama

    September 26, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • brian

      so what is sitting in jail going to do to their addiction? some church's also usually have rehabilitating programs which can put them on track

      September 26, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      Give him something to actually be afraid of if he commits the crime again? Rather then the fear of sleeping in a pew for an hour on Sundays?

      September 26, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Cindy

    "and of course a non-faith based program of "morality and behavior" " ... what would they use to base their morality and behavior on if not a faith based group. Here is the reality. Everyone has faith in one thing or another. Whether it is God or whether it is man or whether it is the drunken man down the road or their own made up list of stuff. That is a fact.
    It is nice to see a communithy thinking for themselves and trying to do what works for them. Noone is forced to do it and it is this out of the box thinking that deserves our admiration. Changing lives is way better then locking someone away and never changing them at all.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      I cannot speak for others, but I base my morality on empathy and compassion for others. No faith required.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • MC

      One of the huge problems with religious people is they believe morality can only come from religion.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      People who think all morals come from religion simply lack the ability to understand the concepts deeply.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cory

      Nobody is being forced? With the alternative being prison, it's hardly a choice. Church is the last place I would send somebody to teach them to be a decent member of society. Religion's long established record of promoting hatred, oppression, intolerance, violence, and anti-intellectualism aside, this policy is yet another in an endless list of violations of one of the supposed core values of this country, the separation of church and state.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Velma

      Morality is generally developed in a civilization over a long period of time as the foundation of how the people in the society find to be the best way for people to live together in a productive and mutually beneficient way. It deminishes fear and creates a sense of safety and togetherness. When morality has to be enforced from without through religion or laws then the people have no internal sense of morality and only follow it out of fear of punishment now or hereafter (if they are caught or have not repented first). Of course, for those who are unable to think for themselves and see that moral behavior benefits them, those they love and their community as a whole, then religion and government (laws) are good enforcers and have been used as such throughout history. However, there are those of us who do not kill because we really don't want to kill and because it is wrong to us, not because of the 10 commandments or the law.

      But the way this is set up does seem to create coersion to go to chuch if you don't want to have a criminal record. That is different only in degree from what has been posted about Muslim countries and is a first step down that slippery slope to a theocracy.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Chitown Jason

    From Bay Minnette's wikipedia page:

    "The racial makeup of the city was 64.3% White, 33.5% Black or African American, 0.6% Native American, 0.4% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.4% from other races, and 0.7% from two or more races. 1% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. (lol)

    ...18.7% had a female householder with no husband present,..The median age was 33.4 years...for every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 94.0 males. (not bad from a single guy's perspective)

    The median income for a household in the city was $27,226, and the median income for a family was $34,605. Males had a median income of $30,149 versus $21,369 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,093. About 20.0% of families and 22.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 32.0% of those under age 18 and 19.0% of those age 65 or over. (ouch)

    September 26, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Anomic Office Drone

    Who needs a clinical approach when you can just find religion? It's not like anyone ever because a violent offender overs something like that.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. John in Vegas

    How about asking them to do something constructive like hold a job during their time in jail? They might learn a useful skill while defraying the cost for their incarceration. Besides, we have enough Christians praying for us. We could use more people who will actually make a difference.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dante

    I like it when people can hear messages of hope and redemption. It's nice when people can get second chances.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. TRM

    Show the scientific link between attending church resulting in lower criminal behavior.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      There are no experiments demonstrating this link - it would be unethical to create such an experiment. Thus, any link is at best a correlation, not a causation.

      But I think there are dozens (or more) studies linking regular attendance in a house of worship with better, more civic-minded habits and less likelihood to commit crime.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. rayT

    A hundred years ago Alabama had the Klan, now they have the Taliban. You're either muslim or die, oops I mean you're either christian or jail. What's the difference?

    September 26, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bob


    September 26, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  11. leeintulsa

    @pdfsmail: not everyone gets a choice, only christians. Christians can get their crime dismissed, no one else can.. I resist labels, but you would probably call me an atheist. I like scientist, though i don't get paid like one..

    I would support you believing what you want. Got a problem with that?

    September 26, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jennifer

    God is not the answer...raising your kids to be a constructive citizen is.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dr.K.

    I have to agree that this is an egregious First Amendment violation. Who elects these mouth-breathers? Oh yeah, fellow mouth-breathers.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      What do you think mouth breather means? I bet you breath through your mouth a good bit of the time...

      September 26, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr.K.

      I'm certain that I do. It is a pejorative term referring to people who are not very bright.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  14. philip

    it all depends....this is where a person may hear the basic Gospel message of salvation, and there is no perfect church anyway. But at some point, these 'inmates' will need to be approached competently at their level by people with understanding of their particular syndrome.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. GeorgeBos95

    Hmmm... I think someone forgot about the separation of Church and State. What about options for those who aren't Christian...or don't believe in God. Or the Wiccans?

    Alabama is still in the stone age.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
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