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. Capt. Obvious

    The faith element aside, this is actually a really good idea to prevent recidivism. If these people, who are not "hardened criminals" can find a group of people who will support them, lend them assistance, perhaps build enough trust to hire them as an employee (getting them off gov't assistance AND preventing them from turning to an illegal way to pay the rent) – because they are no longer associated only with their crime – and create a safety net rather than being ostracized from their community, it might actually help people.
    Folks in the south go to church just as much, if not more so, for the social aspect as the religious one. No one said these people attending had to BELIEVE what they were being told, only that they had to have their butt in a pew and perhaps find some support of one kind or another along the way.

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

      The problem, as others have pointed out, is that this does nothing to punish those who already attend church. Since the program is directed at those who have committed non-violent crimes, there's a great possibility that they already attend church every Sunday. So what do you propose in order to punish them for their crimes?

      September 26, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. 808

    Religion fills the void many people have. I don't have religion, but I understand why other people do. It has nothing to do with intelligence.

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

      Actually it does. Many studies have shown that more a religious a person is, the lower their IQ.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • 808

      Amy, corrolation does not prove causation. Cite your studies. I have an open mind; would like to see them.

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

      Amy, are you able to provide a source for those "studies"?

      September 26, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Relationship between religion and intelligence:

      September 26, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fade

      I'm not going to lie, that website looks like it was made by my grandmother in 1985. Not exactly top notch stuff.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      Fade: A serious one, top-notch one.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Generalize much?

      So what does the fact that I have a master's degree in Mechanical Engineering AND am a Christian do to those "studies"? I would love to see someone get through a program like that with low intelligence. Nice try tho!

      September 27, 2011 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
  3. Less finger pointing, more fixing.

    They do have a choice, no one is putting a gun to their head, of course leave it to the Communist News Network to post a misleading headline like that.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael H.

      So let's say they did put a gun to your head? For me the choice is the same. I'm no hardened criminal, if I ended up in trouble with the law there's no way I'd choose jail over church, and I am seriously opposed to going to church for many reasons. Saying "we'll drop the charges and let you go if you go to church... OR we can throw you in jail" is not a choice. You're either not being punished for your crime, or you're being punished for not choosing church. Church isn't a reasonable punishment anywhere except Mayberry.

      September 28, 2011 at 1:06 am | Report abuse |
  4. Reggie

    I think this is a great option. How many times does a prisoner get to choose his destiny. Prison only serves to house not rehabilitate criminals. If the church is willing to take the task of rehabilitating these people give them a chance. I think only closed minded people would say how dare you try another option...that just might work. It's evident that prison alone isn't so let's think of alternatives that will cost less money and potentially have better results...I.J.S!

    September 26, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  5. 3fingeredjack

    So what is to keep them from "choosing" church and then skipping the jurisdiction????

    September 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. 808

    @Reggie – agree

    September 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Tommy

    Alabama, hm? Why am I not surprised? Well, I hope they were at least given the choice between, say, a Protestant church, a Catholic Church, a Unitarian Church, a synagogue, a mosque, and a Buddhist temple so that they were free to follow their choice of paths rather than have one specific dogma shoved down their throat. No, wait – it's Alabama. Guessing it was conservative Protestant or jail.

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

      Maybe we can send all the religious zealots to Texas, then give Texas back to Mexico as the Mexicans have wanted for decades. Then fence the whole border and solve immigration and religious bigotry problems all at once.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Nope

    Church meet State. We are moving towards a theocratic country which means eventually, Pastors will become judges. So much for America!

    September 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. penisia

    prison should only be for dangerous criminals to begin with

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

    screw this.i will choose jail or the fine.i will never be forced into a church just so i can avoid jail or a fine.

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

      You think you'd be the only person who goes there for other motives than communicating with their god?

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

    I say stop complaining, it's a free ticket out of jail / having to pay a fine.

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

      Yay! We should help these people as much as we can. After all, what crime have they committed?

      Oh. Right.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      unless you dislike seeing people get away with non-violent crimes, in that case, complain all you want.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael H.

      Yeah, Frank, I'm in full support of letting non-violent criminals go unpunished too. Can you imagine? "Drove drunk? Stole a car? No big deal! Get in this church – no life lessons for you!"

      September 28, 2011 at 1:26 am | Report abuse |
  12. Ronald

    Church and State anyone?

    September 26, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • goodwithoutgod

      Seriously! Why not give them an opportunity to learn ethics and moral reasoning in a manner that doesn't involve religion?

      September 26, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. WMesser58

    Anybody who agrees with this clearly believes in fair tales and should not be allowed in public places.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jim

    great idea this is first time I see chruch doing something positive in a community for a long time. Tell the ACLU to shut the heck up. all they do when they act up is cause trouble for America. aka communist front orginazation before President Kennedy made them lawful and legal.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • AmazingSteve

      What a great idea! Why, with no one campaigning for the separation of church and state, we could be just like that other pinnacle of the modern world: Iran!

      September 26, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael H.

      Um, Jim. This is the first time you've seen a church doing something in the community in a long time, and THAT makes you think the church is an adequate custodian for criminal offenders? By that rationale, I rarely help out in the community so I must be a great candidate to run a battered women's shelter!

      September 28, 2011 at 1:30 am | Report abuse |
  15. leeintulsa

    The article states jews and muslims are excluded. Buddhists, too, presumably. That's why it's illegal.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • jim

      these folks of this religiion can go to their own type church. Betcha you can t go to NAACP or Panthers meeting either. why are their activities not considered illegal? whatever .....not going to answer any rebuttals besides I am new convert to Jewish ideas. The synagog I attend has community outreach to help folks in need. [ not sure about prison alternative have not attended long enough to know]

      September 26, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Velma

      Jim, the article clearly states that there are only Christian churches in this community. So Jews, Muslims, Buddists, athiests, Wiccans, etc., etc. have no choice. But what makes me maddest is that those who already attend church have a get out of jail free card. No punishment at all and obviously church didn't make a difference for them. I have read statistics that say that the highest percentage of people in prison do claim to be believers. Sorry. No references. Do your own Google search.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
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