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. lacoaster

    Now a criminal has a legal option of stealing and even lying. Here is a new promo I've just created "Now you have a real choice: From unethical illegal smaller crimes to ethical legal undisclosed crimes, a new bridge has been created just for you, because you are a special type of criminal." "Certain conditions may apply".
    "Enjoy a new type of freedom, a pastor with a book in the hand will often remind you what's right and what is wrong since you have proven you cannot distinguish for yourself. We guarantee you will be equally treated"

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

      equally treated? where is my mosque? synagogue? temple? you better make one for me.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • lacoaster


      You have a point there that landed in my head like a ton of bricks.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Les

      And where is the church option for Pagans, Heathens and Wiccans? This choice is exclusive of any religion except Xtianity and clearly is a violation of the separation of church and state UNLESS all systems of belief are included. Intil they are all inclusive then the Sate of Missippi, esprcially it's judges are commitimg a criminal act by offering this "choice".

      September 26, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Les


      UNTIL..............................................STATE of MISSISSIPPI,

      September 26, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Not One of the 1 Percent

    Does this mean if I get caught shoplifting, I can squeeze my scientology stick and it's all good? Pretty sweet

    September 26, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mihoda

    If I'm a regular church goer does that mean I can commit misdemeanors at will?

    September 26, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      I do not know about at will, but you get one freebie per year it seems.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Observer

    How can they even offer a choice between church and jail. Some here have commented that "no one is forcing them to attend jesus church".... but is this really a choice – go to jail, else join jesus??? I could understand, doing community service, or heck, even planting trees and mending to them for a year. What "good to society" does attending church do? Nothing. A wrong-headed judge, and a wrong-headed government. Christianity gone amok – another example of extremism that is tarnishing our major religiions of the world today.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      exactly, this does more harm then good. They want to let criminals go to church, listen to the hate fith and predjuces spewed from the priests mouth, then set them loose? The tenants taught in church will make people more criminalistic, not less.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Laughing hard

    This is so unfair... The only way they'll drop the charges is if you go to church.
    I'm an atheist as I refuse to believe in a god who is the primary cause of conflict in the world, preaches r@cism, s*xism, h0mophobia, and ignorance, and then sends me to h*ll if I’m ‘bad’.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aerin

      I am with you.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      Ya but this is the capitol of the redneck movement. Just like my dad always said, if someone likes Leanard Skinnard THEY ARE A WORTHLESS REDNECK.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Max

      Please don't for get that he has commanded at least one genocide (giving his chosen people land that already belonged so some people), committed at least one of his own (flood)... how learning to worship such a being makes a better person..I don't know.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Chas

    Jail? in Alabama?! Bubba thinks yer sure am cute! After all, his sister is now-a gettin on in yars. This is a state that claims to be Christian but still flies a confederate flag bigger than some of their houses – you can see it along US65 – and still *proudly* flies the confederate battle flag above most gubment buildings.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. layminister herman

    Some of you people and yes Iam talkin to those of you who dont attend a church on a regular basis ,And its not so much the attending of church but what you do when you leave the building how much you live your life as jesus would.And if you dont attend church regularly you dont have a hint how jesus lived or how he wants you to live I E helping our brothers and sisters who are in need ,And for that I feel so very sorry for you people who are unwilling to learn the love that our father and his son jesus chrirt our lord and savior has for us Now with that said I have a feeling that there will be just as many going to church as not who enter the kingdom of heavon .Just cause you go to church dont mean your going to heavon you have to do the work of god

    September 26, 2011 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laughing hard

      There is no Heaven or h*ll.
      If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • BucketDrop

      Mr. Herman, I am a church-going atheist (there are many of us who attend church out of respect for our spouses). Every Sunday I hear what you are talking about and every Sunday I reconfirm my lack of belief in a deity. I have been both a believer and an atheist, so I have a background to say that it would be very useful for you to try stepping away from your belief for one year and see for yourself what your religion looks like from the outside. You will be surprised.

      Regarding this article, I feel a little sorry for the ministers in these churches who will have far more miscreants in the pews who don't really want to be there...

      September 26, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      Um, have you read the bible? I was kicked out of caticasm when I was SIX YEARS OLD, for asking questions that the priest had no way to answer, and then I made fun of him. The beliefs of all thiests are so stupid that any athiest who does you the courtisy of listening to your ludicris arguments for a fairy god, is just hurting there own inteligance for believing that a thiest could possibly have anythig of use to say.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Les

      The problem is which god. Clearly the prisoners do have an option of choosing which god they serve.

      As it stands now, their only choice is a rebel who took delight in criminally destroying other people's property (e.g. at the temple) and who claims as his father a minor storm deity called Yahweh.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  8. PM

    i hate religion sooooooooooooooooooo much. it true that if you divorce your wife in alabama; that she is still your sister? just a question...

    September 26, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Rudedog

    Locally, several parishioners had their cars burglarized as they attended service so that idea would not work here.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Medeatore

    I think that this is not a bad idea, their some helpful bennifits that could come out of this, criminal optional sentecing plan in Alabama. People who opt out of going to jail or paying a costly fine, could instead choose the attending church option, witch could offer them other things then just about GOD only. It would offer them differant ways of dealing with things, give them good values, maybe helping them become more productive setizens, with a continous support network of people to incourage you, help you and guide you. that wont fade away after the judicial punishment is done and finished, relationship builders. people come from differant lives back rounds, some fufilling and some hollow and void. This just may be the grogram that makes a diiferance were correctional rehabilitation, AA and were all of these drug treatment programs leave people unchanged or i worse shape,and the support networks for these individuals are non existant. make relationships IE life long (FRIENDSHIPS) with people with a support system will be an improvement and have a far reaching influence in their lives to the individual.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • hricane

      Which values are those? Killing people who don't believe in your God - that is in the OT. What about killing women who wear men's clothing. Oh, in the "good book" too. Do you want me to keep going? If people actually REALLY read the Bible you would understand the true nature of what is being written in it (especially the OT). Ask someone who reads the book critically to point out all of the hipocracies and truly immoral acts (need I mention condoning slavery?) and then try to convince yourself that you need the "good book." I have made it more than 40 years of my life without going to jail and most people would say I am a decent human is that possible without going to church? Perhaps I am just a rational human being who understands that right and wrong isnt contained in ONE of the NUMEROUS religious texts that all claim to be correct.

      And aside from the ridiculousness of your comment on the "moral" is truly a blatant violation of church and state and the government picking one religion (christianity) over another. So EVEN is you THINK a person would be helped by some Churching Up.. it is still illegal

      September 26, 2011 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      There is absolutly nothing an athiest can learn in the morals department from a thiest. A thiest has already surendered his will to a magical force outside there control. They can never be as strong as smart as compassionate or as loving as an athiest, for the athiest knows that all humans are the same, and that our beliefs seporate us, but do not change us. The thiest takes the aproch of believe what you like, but if its is not what i believe then you are evil and should die, that is the credo tof the thiest.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Max

      My dear, we could give them community college classes and maybe they'd be able to make some friends their. It's encourage, program, sentencing, which (a witch is a person of a much older religion than Christianity, but isn't the word which), citizens, won't, different.... Please capitalize the first letter of every sentence and the pronoun 'I'. While the early Christians likely believed that the return of Jesus was very near, which may have made abandoning all the Roman technology and culture seem like a very good idea, we know that it might be a little while until the magic man comes back, so it is a very good idea to understand our shared culture and agreed upon norms. Also, if a word has a red line under it – that means the word isn't spelled right.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mark McKee

    Jesus wants me to choose jail I'm sure. Good thing these rednecks lack both reading and critical thinking skills. Imagine how upset they would be to know that Jesus was pretty much a secular humanist. they're heads would explode. Thank God, they're protected by ignorance.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joe, Louisville, KY

    How does this get past separation of church and state? You are breaking state/federal laws so going to church cannot be a legitimate 'punishment'

    September 26, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laughing hard

      I think it was the "Patriot Act" that ended the separation of church and state statues...
      As well as a lot of other freedoms we HAD.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ed

    Sounds like a ok idea to me. Why not try it. Its not going to heart the ones that are complaining if they will be good little boys and girls.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. moomoo3851


    September 26, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. MIke T


    September 26, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Some Guy

      I think I'd rather choose jail aswell. Maybe we can be cellmates

      September 26, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
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