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. Floyd

    If someone is not religious, or is an atheist, what exactly what is he supposed to do?

    September 27, 2011 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |

      Then they do a strech in county lock up. But according to what I've read in these posts, most atheists would choose that anyway.

      September 27, 2011 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
    • will


      September 27, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Brian

    I'm failing to see where the option is here. Aren't they both essentially the same thing?

    September 27, 2011 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
    • David in Corpus

      I'd serve my time in the slam. At least I can look around a prison and see the truth in it, unlike church.

      September 27, 2011 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  3. EDan

    I live in this area of Alabama. Bay Minette is close to Mobile which does have a synagogue and a large Muslim community. Most of the people I have talked to about this proposal are just as skeptical about it as most of the commenters on this blog. While much of the state of Alabama is part of the "Bible Belt" and hence very conservative, there are metropolitan areas (with major Universities – gasp!) and well-educated people who tend to be more moderate and even liberal in their views. Not all of us sit on a Protestant pew every Sunday. I know the general view of this part of the country trends toward the ignorant, red-neck type (which certainly exists), but not all Southerners fit that stereotype.

    September 27, 2011 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Convoluted Universe

      I totally understand where your coming from I get reverse sterotyping...I am from boston living in everyone assumes that I am Democrate and that I know everything about the Kennedy's and responsible for every liberal idea out there. I have had people come into my antique store and say "Boy you can tell she's a yankee!" and my response is "NO, I am an American!:" Then they respond, O'OH yeah that's right." DAH! We are all, of this planet right now so get over it I love REM LOOSING MY RELIGION!!!! Give me a higher source, jail or religion give me jail!!

      September 27, 2011 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Jon Alberts

      there are Metropolitan Areas in Alabama??? Where? Mobile? You must have never left that ass backwards state. I have been through that whole place and going to alabama was like getting in a time machine and going back 100 years.

      September 27, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. jim

    If there's a totally brainless way to handle any situation, be assured, the South will find (and employ) it!

    September 27, 2011 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
  5. Bible Clown

    Cool – I'm gonna move there and open the Powerhouse Church of the Presumptuous Assumption of the Blinding Light. You felons can come hang out with me.

    September 27, 2011 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
  6. Samuel Scrumpwell

    As long as I can hang out with fellow Pastafarians on Sunday, it sounds like a great deal. Get drunk and watch the NFL and discuss pirates and global warming. Ramen brothers and sisters, Ramen.

    September 27, 2011 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
  7. realitypolice

    Yes, of course, this will work great. Because everyone knows there are no religious people in prison.

    September 27, 2011 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  8. Meesh (B'ham)

    I think the brainless types are more prominently found and employed in Washington... not the south. They are given a CHOICE... church or jail. If they CHOOSE church, maybe one person will get something out of it but a lot of taxpayer money will be saved. The north does not do much better. There are brainless rednecks everywhere.

    September 27, 2011 at 9:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Larry L

      Choice? A prison record or religion? Christians in the South are so much like the Taliban. They assume everybody "needs" the spiritual guidance their cult produces. I have a right to not worship any of the mythical characters used to suck money from the gullible. A judge does not have the right to use duress to push people toward religion. Even the South is still in America – not Iran!

      September 27, 2011 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
  9. Feast of Beast

    What option is there for atheists?

    September 27, 2011 at 9:06 am | Report abuse |
  10. jazzy

    i wish my brother was given this option as a youth.

    September 27, 2011 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
  11. Cedar Rapids

    So what are they expecting the people to do that take the church option? are they allowed to lay down and sleep on the pews during the service? heckle from the back? sit there and play angry birds on their iphones?

    September 27, 2011 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  12. elgeevz

    Sounds like a terrible idea to me. Looking back on my 79 years, the most honest, decent, and benevolent individuals I have known were not at all religious. On the other hand, just about every time I have been ripped off or stabbed in the back, the deed has been done by born-again Baptists. Going to church apparently makes crooks even worse,

    September 27, 2011 at 9:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Convoluted Universe

      Totally agree so will they have to donate 10% to the church??

      September 27, 2011 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Larry L


      September 27, 2011 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
  13. c602206

    How about offering counseling that isn't tied to religion??? What happend to separation of church and state???

    September 27, 2011 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
  14. Ink

    What if they choose the Church of Satan? That would be much more fun than Jail.

    September 27, 2011 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
  15. Open-minded Liberal

    I think you need to look at this in a cultural context. I've lived in the south – this is not a bad idea at all. People get more than religion at church. They find fellowship, make new friends, learn how to step out of their own shell and serve others instead of themselves and maybe even get a line on a job. Sure, there are jerks everywhere and church is no exception, but making this an option could be a step in the right direction for some.

    Even if they spend the hour playing Angry Birds, they will hear a good message about salvation and enjoy the music.

    September 27, 2011 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
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