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. Benyamin

    What about for us Jews?

    September 27, 2011 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
  2. Colleen Jermyn

    This is a wonderful idea. I pray for all of the non-believers commenting. Jesus still loves you and wants to be a part of your life and show you what he had in store for you. This is an option, they are not forcing it on them. They can choose jail if they want, and do their time. May God bless this endeavor and may many lives be changed and restored through the blood of Jesus Christ.

    September 27, 2011 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      What if the options were jail (which also means lost pay and possibly lost job) or spending 50 hours volunteering for an atheistic organization? Would you say "well, I have a choice, I can just go to jail"? Or would you demand another option?

      September 27, 2011 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Ronald Hussein Reagan

      To rephrase – How about if they got the option of watching Jenna Jameson movies for an hour a week? Or, if you're into punishment – make them watch the Republican debates.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • oneworl2

      ill take jail any day.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Regal


      September 27, 2011 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • RichieP

      You're missing the point just as much as the ACLU is. The fact is that by getting the offender to spend time with the church's congregation every week for a year, there is a good chance he will start to feel like part of the community and not want to be a criminal. If he develops some attachments to those people, he will have that added peer pressure to behave himself around them, and if those people are spread out all over the tiny little town (which they easily are) he will always be around people he doesn't want to commit crimes in front of, just like you act differently around your parents than you do on spring break. It's not about using mysticism to change people, and any religion will do as long as they have a sense of community and promote lawful behavior.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      RitchieP: The assumption that this can only be done through a church is the problem. Why do you think this would be less effective if there were an option to do community service? Why is sitting through a church service better than spending that time working with Habitat for Humanity or the Red Cross?

      September 27, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Drito

      I pity your sheer ignorance.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Jeremy Sanster

      I couldn't have put it better myself. I offer a prayer to Allah that Colleen will be welcome in the afterlife, to commune with the prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) and all the other prophets, as she has shown tolerance in the finest Muslim (or any other belief's) tradition.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Ronald Hussein Reagan

      Sanctimonious RichieP – he can be among decent people like the BTK killer. People that go to church aren't any better, or more moral – they just think they are.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  3. richunix

    So if you don't believe in Jesus (Jewish or Atheist, Muslim Hindu, or Budda, pretty much 2/3rd of the worlds population) your off to the slammer! WOW. Wonderful whats next ..the Spainish Inquistion?

    September 27, 2011 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Bill the Cat

      But no one expected it!!

      September 27, 2011 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
    • vbscript2

      Umm... Did you miss the part about being convicted of a crime? I'm pretty sure jail is a legal punishment for that...

      September 27, 2011 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Jay

      What happened to the separation between church and state? Im failing to understand how this is consitiutional?

      September 27, 2011 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
    • cykill45

      I'd take jail...

      September 27, 2011 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
    • RichieP

      They never said you have to believe in Jesus.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
    • RaBaltera

      Yeah Im sure thats the religious demographics of some small Alabama town too...

      September 27, 2011 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Reason

      But not 2/3 of Alabama's population. A vast majority of persons there confess a Christian faith.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  4. Bill the Cat

    Sitting in a church no more makes you a Christian than sitting in a garage makes you a car

    September 27, 2011 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Johnny


      September 27, 2011 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
    • cykill45


      September 27, 2011 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
    • RichieP

      As far as the law is concerned it doesn't matter if you are a Christian. Sitting in a church every week statistically reduces the odds of you committing major crimes.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Nonimus

      Weak analogies make for weak arguments.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
    • miltonbz

      Bill, you're absolutely right. But working in a garage teaches you about cars, and so does sitting in a church teach you about Christians. I am aware, though, that not all Christians are good examples, but that is because they have not laid aside the weights of this world. Bill, maybe you want to do yourself a favor and check out this Christian-thing. Warning: you will find it unpleasant to the flesh, but sweet to the spirit. But the spirit is what really matters, although it doesn't seem that way to people geared up to please the flesh. Find a serious, Bible-believing church, though.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Nonimus

      "Sitting in a church every week statistically reduces the odds of you committing major crimes."
      Where are the statistics for this? It sound made up, to me.
      Or are you saying that many major crimes are committed on Sunday mornings?

      September 27, 2011 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      RitchieP: There is NO evidence that your statistic holds true with people who don't want to be there.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  5. Bill

    Quick, someone set up a Jedi temple in Alabama! In all honesty I wouldn't have an issue with something like this if it were termed in a non-secular way. There needs to be readily available options for people of varying faiths including those with no belief in the supernatural at all. Participation in a volunteer organization for a year ought to qualify and honestly should have the same effect of engaging the person in a positive community atmosphere.

    September 27, 2011 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
    • RichieP

      I hate to burst your bubble, but mandatory community service has already been widely used as official punishment since forever.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      RitchieP: And if there were an alternative of 52 hours of community service I would have less of a problem.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  6. dabble53

    Hmmmm.....I wonder if the offenders can pick a "Church of Satan" or perhaps a Druid congregation?
    If the court in any way restricts what church may be attended, then there would definitely be issues of separation of church and state.

    September 27, 2011 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
    • RichieP

      Try reading the article for once. It clearly says they can choose what church they attend. They just need the church leader's signature to prove they were present. They don't have to demonstrate in any way that they actually practiced the religion.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Nonimus

      The article also says, "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..."

      September 27, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      What about religions that only meet in a group for certain sacraments and otherwise you practice by yourself? There are several pagan religions that qualify.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  7. atypical

    giving people the choice of one long-standing dysfunctional system or another. I guess we can commend them for trying something different besides incarceration... . . . but geez. . .religion is so disempowering. for eons it has deluded people and kept them enslaved to the notion that they are sinners and in need salvation. religion is just another way of keeping people dumbed down, living in the shadows of themselves, making it easier to control them.

    September 27, 2011 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
    • miltonbz

      Religion is disempowering only to those that will not humble themselves before God and confess that they are sinners. Everyone at some point in time felt seriously guilty. Don't blame religion. I am bold enough to say that if there would be no preacher, there would still be guilt because God planted a conscience inside of everyone. Preachers are only confirming what your conscience has been telling you all along, and pointing to the way to be released from this guilt. The Bible says that if we won't confess Jesus as Lord here on earth, we will do it before the judgment throne, where it will be too late. May God grant you the grace to be freed from your guilt.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Nonimus

      "Religion is disempowering only to those that will not humble themselves before God..."
      This is perfect! It only dis-empowers those who don't give up their power willingly. Brilliant!

      September 27, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  8. JOE

    With a whole lot of priests and pastors committing adultery, molesting little boys and committing so many sunful acts today, I wonder how this type of sentence could turn someone's life around. The court should find an alternate solution to regular church attendance. You can worship God at home too with an ankle bracelet foir example.

    September 27, 2011 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
  9. Chris

    What an absolute joke.

    September 27, 2011 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
  10. StinkyStu

    Christians are gonna keep at us just as they did the Hopi indians. Maybe we should burn down all their churches and kill all their priests. Worked for the Hopi's.

    September 27, 2011 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
  11. oneworl2

    Well i guess its of to jail then.

    September 27, 2011 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  12. Ronald Hussein Reagan

    This wrong on so many levels (Though I do remember going to church was a bit like being punished.)

    September 27, 2011 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  13. Reason

    This is not a violation of the separation of Church and State. Church attendance is not mandatory under the law. This is simply another option. I agree that provisions should be made for other faiths, but it is important to consider the religious demographics of the area. If there are no other centers of worship that is because there are not many other kinds of worshipers. I think this is a great way of utilizing pre-existing public services to combat crime in a different way, in a way that might work better than incarceration. It is worth a shot.

    September 27, 2011 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      Again, if there were an option for 52 hours of community service, I would find it equitable. However – the choices are: Go to jail (lose pay and maybe a job, have a criminal record), pay a fine (lose money and have a criminal record) or give up 52 hours of your time (get a free pass).

      September 27, 2011 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  14. Amy

    To loop attending church and praising an almighty and merciful God with going to jail is sickening. We are blessed with the opportunity to worship Jesus Christ, and secular society would have us believe that blessing is a punishment.

    September 27, 2011 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
    • RichieP

      They're not using it as a deterrent. It's supposed to be rehabilitating.

      September 27, 2011 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  15. Joseph

    Forget the first amendment. This is a clear violation of the 8th amendments protection against cruel and unusual punishment. (Tee hee.)

    September 27, 2011 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
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