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. skeptic

    "offenders weren't being forced to attend church, they are just being given the option"
    go to church or go to jail–sounds like being forced to me... now if they can choose any house of worship or some other form of non-religious venue, then maybe it would be ok

    September 26, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • UHhello

      They do get to pick, read the article. I would choose church over jail but my choice might not even exist in the whole state of AL. I wonder what they would do if someone wanted to select a Buddhist temple or some non-mainstream choice? Would it still "fit the bill" for their concieved idea of rehabilitation?

      September 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      They only get a choice if they are christian..

      September 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • commonsense

      No, they are not being forced! Without the program, their only option is jail. How did that just fly right over your head? The article points out that there are no Mosques or Synagogues in the area. It's idiots like you that strike down good programs like this because you're incapable of comprehended common sense.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "It's idiots like you that strike down good programs like this because you're incapable of comprehended common sense"
      Its idiots like you that think this is a good program.
      I wonder if they would allow a temple in the area if they would allow that as a choice, what do you think?

      September 26, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael H.

      I have a choice for you. I can hit you in the face with a baseball bat or you can listen to me read greek mythology for an hour. That's not a choice. It's a no-brainer. If you're Christian, or you don't mind sitting in church either way, then essentially you've received no punishment for your crime. If you're not Christian, or are opposed to Christianity and being indoctrinated with it, then still, you will probably choose church (despite what so many people on this thread have said. I am extremely opposed to going to church, and I'd pick that in a second over a month in jail... especially if it was here in Brooklyn). If you're arrested and told you can go free if you agree to go to church or you can be punished with jail time, then yes, the government would be forcing you to go to church because the alternative would seem unthinkable by comparison.

      September 28, 2011 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
  2. Believer

    Isn't God in Jail? Isn't that where all the murderers, rapists etc...... find Jesus? Thats why they let them out early no? They found Jesus, in jail. hahahhahahaha. funny stuff man.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Norm - not that one

    The asinine, ignorant fanatic, judge stepped way over the line. It is not in his authority to send people to "church".
    He should be impeached IMMEDIATELY!

    While noting – that, by doing so, he is showing that sending people TO church IS a punishment.

    That's why there is a separation between religiously insane people and the government!

    September 26, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • UHhello

      Do any of you ragers read the article at all? It says it is a "community program" that means the community forced it on the judge not the judge forcing it on the accused.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Maria

    Okay, let's say you can't bear the fact of going to jail, you are flat broke, and an athiest. Then what?

    September 26, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • AmazingSteve

      You probably didn't commit a crime in that situation. Atheists usually don't.

      That said, I agree with you entirely that this is beyond ridiculous.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve c

      Such a victim... you go to jail.

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

    Uh what? Separation of church and state? The most I don't like about this is this insultingly suggests atheists are more prone to crime when statistics suggest a lesser percentage of unbelievers end up in prison than are in the general population. Given that, maybe we should be sending them to atheist camp or something. No, but seriously taking a class in ethics might do them some good. And by that I mean real ethics not just "because god or the state said so".

    September 26, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • UHhello

      I wonder if they would let you pick your local Wiccan congregation? Or perhaps the local Buddhist temple? Or may be there is a registered Native American religion locally you could select?

      September 26, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. gamblor

    Wait do you have to sleep with Priest? Because that's no better than jail, so i guess ill take the fine

    September 26, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seth Hill

      Is it OK for a priest to sleep with a nun? Yes, as long as he doesn't get into the habit.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael H.

      If you're an adult, you're probably safe.

      September 28, 2011 at 12:51 am | Report abuse |
  7. rick

    I'd choose church over jail, and would be thankful for the option. but if you hate religion, just choose jail, idiots.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • pat carr

      thanks moron, that's what we will choose. we don't bend over and take it for religion like you would

      September 26, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Angel

      It isn't about hating religion. It's about hating the fact that religious people are telling people "If I commit a non-violent crime I won't have to go to jail I'll just sit through some church services" and letting people get away with criminal activity, becuase of the misguided childish notion that if they go to church somehow somehow they will magically be turned into not-criminals. You can believe that naive notion if you want and no one will hate you for it, but keep it out of government.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. banasy©

    Oh, sista, you have a way of painting a picture with words...onions and beer?
    Sorta of like Aunt Bea from 'Andy Griffith' meets Rev. Jim from 'Taxi'?

    September 26, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. CharlieInVA

    I agree with some other comments here – let's do away with the foolishness and brainwashing of religion and give folks the option of jail, a fine, or community service, where they can actually HELP the society they wronged. Going to church does no good to anybody except the church itself, who without the ignorant and the easily brainwashed filling a collection plate week after week, would lose their tax-free income and go out of business.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnny

      You said it!

      September 26, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Religions need to start paying their fair share of taxes. This is the biggest crime in America today.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      Actually, if you look at the statistics, community service is typically offered to first-time misdemeanor offenders in many jurisdictions. Unfortunately, it has been shown to be incredibly ineffective at reducing the rate of repeat offenses, which is, what I think the goal of this new approach may be. Now, I'm not saying that church would be any more successful than community service (I don't know), but there's no point in pretending community service is a novel solution to the problem, either.

      Personally, I'd rather people make religious decisions on their own. Those committing crimes tend to have a penchant for bucking authority, so I doubt "God's Rules" will go over any better with these folks than Man's Laws have.

      September 26, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jordan scene©

    Well this is still technically separation of church and state. You just have to pick, do you wanna become the property of the church, or the state? I'm all for this program if it actually helps! I know I'd rather give up my sunday mornings to goto church than be out all sorts of money in fines and court fees or get locked up and lose my job. Hi banasy and all, hope you're all having a good afternoon!

    September 26, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. 808

    I am not a religious person by a long shot, but this sounds like it might be a good idea. Better than letting them find gang life in jail/prison.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • AmazingSteve

      You're right, with all the criminals that will suddenly be attending church, they can find gang life there! Why, I can see it now: Thursday night quilting circles, followed by the weekly drive-by shooting.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  12. WhatWhatWhat?

    This is the problem with our country, people forcing others down the WRONG path. Religion = Delusion.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Rachel A. Hanson

    I think that there may be some need to put people "on the right path", but not through religion. Make them do community service or something else that is actually going to help people.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Lodrelhai

    I notice Chief Rowland says those who attend church will have their case dismissed. That's a very different thing from being convicted and serving time.

    Anyone taking bets on whether attending a UU church, non-local mosque (since there aren't any local ones), pantheistic order, or atheist community improvement group would count?

    September 26, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • UHhello

      Probably not since these types of laws are created by the extremists on the right. It they forgot to close a loop hole it would noly take one time for them to see the errors of their ways and close the loop hole.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Robert

    What if one of those Peyote churches opens up in that town? Will that be an option?

    September 26, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • WhatWhatWhat?


      September 26, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
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