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. Jenrose

    Making the choice "church or jail" is creating punishment for not choosing church. That's blatant abuse of government authority to promote religion.

    September 27, 2011 at 5:08 am | Report abuse |
  2. peggy

    I think community service is a much better option. However, that has to been supervised by someone, so I am guessing the powers that be don't want to have to pay someone to supervise.

    September 27, 2011 at 5:09 am | Report abuse |
  3. Richard

    This is stupid, it gives Christians an easy way out of jail time, while non Christians have what other options? Jail. Yeah that's real smart.

    September 27, 2011 at 5:29 am | Report abuse |
    • drcoltrane

      So you're saying that non-christians couldn't just pretend to be christians and go to church? They could just lie like every other human being and fake christian for a year and avoid jail. I don't really see a criminal feeling too guilty about not sticking to atheist convictions...

      September 27, 2011 at 5:44 am | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      drcoltrane: You don't think that people who are religious commit misdemeanors? You've never heard of a "pillar of the community" who has gotten arrested for public drunkenness or driving while impaired?

      September 27, 2011 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |
    • jim

      @drcoltrane So you're saying that an atheist should have to pretend to be a christian in order to receive equal justice?

      September 27, 2011 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
  4. Little Miss Muppet

    Good idea! Turn churches into jails! If they aren't paying taxes, at least there will be some use for them.

    September 27, 2011 at 5:36 am | Report abuse |
  5. craig

    Were it me, I'd opt for attending the local meeting worshiping FSM. It's as valid as any other religion, and services can be held at home. They're not allowed to choose what religion I chose.

    September 27, 2011 at 5:42 am | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      Great idea!

      September 27, 2011 at 6:05 am | Report abuse |
    • James

      I thought we were supposed to worship the FSM in Italian Restaurants. That's where I go to pay my respects to the Flying Spaghetti Monster whom created the Universe so we, who are part of his creation, can eat pasta.

      September 27, 2011 at 6:13 am | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      James – right – so once a week go out for a spaghetti dinner for an hour and have the waiter sign your note. 🙂

      September 27, 2011 at 6:19 am | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      Of course, it would be best if you wore a pirate costume to the restaurant.

      September 27, 2011 at 6:33 am | Report abuse |
    • GrammarPolice


      September 27, 2011 at 7:28 am | Report abuse |
  6. Kayla

    So would going to Temple, Mosque, or another religious service each week for a year be an acceptable alternative?

    September 27, 2011 at 5:42 am | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      The article says that there are none around. I'm more interested in what happens with some of the religions that don't have weekly services – what could someone use for their hours on those weeks?

      September 27, 2011 at 6:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Manis

      No... it should be church as it is the only place you get a right message for your future regarding how to lead life and repent for all his/her deeds. God is the only way he can renew himself. So people don't look for alternatives....

      September 27, 2011 at 7:10 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jebbb

    Ha Ha, good one, Alabama judges! WWJD? I know, I know, he'd be in jail with the sinners, not in church with the hypocrites. BTW, the best alternative to this stupid idea of an alternative to unnecessary and expensive jail time for minor offenses is community service. For example, offenders could pick up the trash the hypocrites drop along the highway on their way home from church.

    September 27, 2011 at 6:10 am | Report abuse |
  8. Caitlin

    Those arguing that it's unfair to atheists are missing a key point... atheists represent a very tiny fraction of people in jail - the atheist population is, by and large, more advantaged than the average population and far less likely to resort to crime as a means to an end. Christians though ... those folks really do fill up the jails 😐 This could help them.

    September 27, 2011 at 6:11 am | Report abuse |
    • huh???

      Eh...that's too much discovery channel for you there! People only turn to religion in prison/jail because they are afraid of the unknown. Once they get their senses back and the fear subsides, the church goes away! Not all non-christians are atheists and the largest practiced religion in the world are earth based religions that have no structure other than your back yard. Curious how they will raise the millions of dollars they will lose in the lawsuits over this??!!

      September 27, 2011 at 6:56 am | Report abuse |
  9. LivinginVA

    OK, what about earth-based religions? Can someone go for a walk in the woods for an hour a week?

    September 27, 2011 at 6:16 am | Report abuse |
    • huh???

      Indeed! Any you know they wouldn't let us! They said you have to attend church, every sunday, for a year. Not sure if they quoted the law exactly, but that is what I am understanding!

      September 27, 2011 at 6:58 am | Report abuse |
  10. Katie

    Religion doesn't make a person a better person. Religion causes death and destruction–oh, and child molesters. Jail is a better sentence.

    September 27, 2011 at 6:45 am | Report abuse |
  11. huh???

    And the belief here is that going to christian church to worship a non-existent, omnipotent un-dead guy and his non-existent omnipotent father are going to make fledgling criminals into good ole' hardworking Americans! This is a direct violation of the separation of church and state! Evil christians and their membership drives! Just another way to put money in the collection plates of opiate dealers! Ridiculous!

    September 27, 2011 at 6:45 am | Report abuse |
  12. CJG

    We lived in a tiny NC town, where our neighbor was arrested again (according to his online record, he'd been arrested yearly for drug distribution since 1972), his mother was also arrested for selling prescription meds to an undercover police officer. The judge dismissed the mother's case before she even made it to the front of the courtroom and the son? We saw him wandering around the neighborhood with a cross on his shoulder and some guy reading from a bible following him... his case was dismissed too. The dealing from that house? never stopped. Several times a day young wealthy kids driving their parent's SUVs stop to make monetary donations... When I complained to the police, I was told that I was known as a "well-known trouble maker" Huh, hope they have fun with that new crop of meth addicts they are growing... I moved away from Mayberry.

    September 27, 2011 at 6:57 am | Report abuse |
  13. Andreas Moser

    This is a bad idea indeed. Offenders will simply pretend to pray and repent. This kind of punishment thus provides an incentive to lie and deceive:

    September 27, 2011 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |
  14. 100% American

    I'd take jail or pay a fine rather than have to pretend in the belief of the Invisible Sky Friend who grants wishes.

    September 27, 2011 at 7:18 am | Report abuse |
  15. Jorge

    Oh brother, give me a break. Yet another example of why the South, per capita, has been historically the most dearth-riddled part of the country. You can't dig your way out of a rut through religious hypocrisy and backwoods political pandering a la Foghorn Leghorn. The most disturbing part is that the U.S. political arena is giving more and more forum to the likes of Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Newt Gingrich and Mark Sanford. If the political body of the Union were a drug-addled street bum, the South would be the stinky nether regions.

    September 27, 2011 at 7:23 am | Report abuse |
    • GrammarPolice

      Dearth-riddled? Say, Jorge – do you have a degree in gibberish or are you just a talented amateur?

      September 27, 2011 at 7:31 am | Report abuse |
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