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. Larry L

    Is it the obesity, the poverty, the bigotry, the ignorance, or the religious intolerance that makes Alabama such a "special" place? Jail would be the better choice because you'd get to associate with a better class of people.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gezellig

      Is that last statement based on your personal experience with both church and jail? Or are you just guessing?

      September 26, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • JOS

      Zing! So true.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry L

      I've changed my mind... I attend a Baptist church wearing one of those pointy hats the Cardinals wear in Catholic ceremonies and a Star of David pendant. A couple of hours before church I'd drink a few beers and eat two buritos and four hard-boiled eggs. I'd smile a lot and sing really loud. Definately church...

      September 26, 2011 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gezellig

      OK, that answers it; you were just guessing. Or, to put it another way, you were making your comment based on bigotry, ignorance, and religious intolerance. I guess that means you must live in one of those "special" places.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Larry L

      You are correct! I live in Texas – yet another "red" state and a place where seperation of church and state is ignored. We have Governor "Good Hair" Perry – va clone of the other Texan who ruined America.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. cslade

    Jail please!

    September 26, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. b4bigbang

    @Peter: "I don't think putting someone in church will do much to decrease violence. " Read the article. The opening sentence starts with "...If you're charged with a nonviolent crime...". Besides, do ya want non-violent types to be mixed with violent types in jail? I thought that was what we don't want!

    September 26, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. skeptic1

    Doesn’t the Taliban use a similar program…?

    September 26, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Aerin

    what are joke. "oh yes sweet jeezuz come into my heart" *blub* *blub*

    short-cut to back out on the streets where they can do whatever they want to the sucka jeebuz freaks.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. mike

    I'll take jail time, thank you!

    September 26, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. tzvikf

    I suppose they could send some of those young troubled youth to the local catholic church. The priest would know how to fondle eh I mean handle them.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Boater

    .... and we wonder why this nation is going to hell? Think about it–these people who made these decisions are actually allowed to VOTE!!!!

    September 26, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Nick

    Only in Bama

    September 26, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. gyrogearloose

    This is just plain wrong.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bam bam

    jail too never church might come out worst with a fetish for little boys

    September 26, 2011 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Brook

    The Church of Satan just got kind of excited...

    September 26, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  13. bawana

    Oh ,,blinding light,,,
    oh light that blinds,,
    well i can't see
    so look out for me !!!!!
    circa 1968 fire sign theater

    September 26, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Joel

    Rant if you wish, but good will come out of the decision to go to Church. The thing about Christianity is that you can disregard all of the Faith based aspects and focus only on the physical and literal portions of the Bible ..such as the 10 commandments and This alone can almost serve as a type of Therapy. I guarantee you that the crime they've committed violated something the Bible teaches Against and thus going to church would "cure" you.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • JOS

      Yeah, like when the Bible LITERALLY says you can cure leprosy by dipping a live bird into the blood of a dead bird (Leviticus 14)?! SO INCREDIBLY FACTUAL!

      September 26, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. jpc

    So, which particular churches are allowed? If there are no synagogues or mosques in the area, can I attend one that is not in the area?

    If that is not allowed (either attend one of the limited number of churches in the area, or have no choice but to go to jail), they are removing choices from me based on my choice of religion. That is discrimination, and that is why this law wouldn't stand for a day if challenged in court.

    Also, I'd wager a guess that the vast majority of "crimes" that these people are being convicted of are victimless offenses that should not be crimes in the first place.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      I agree with your thoughts, and I add, THIS IS AN ILLIGAL LAW. It is illigal to mandate thiesm. For the same reason court apointed AA is illigal, because that it court ordered church. It is funny that stistically speaking there are WAY WAY WAY more thiests in jail then athiests. Why? Because once you "know" that you are blessed, then you can do no wrong. Thiests are stupid, and if I found myself in an alabama court (wouldnt happen because I do not go into the barbaric south) I would tell them to f off and put me in jail, going to church means you must sit with pederasts sicofants and the like.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • rizzo

      then go to jail ...

      September 26, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • b4bigbang

      @JPC: They're *not* removing choices from you or anybody, they've added a choice for all minor offenders who wish to take advantage. The article said no other relgions have houses in the jurisdiction.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
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