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. paul1121

    I always pray to Jesus to protect me from his followers.

    September 27, 2011 at 8:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. xavi

    I choose jailsus!

    September 27, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Duck Dodgers

    I'm an Atheist and I have to say, I like the idea. They're not forcing religion on anyone just giving them another option to consider. Jail only makes you a better criminal and actually passes fairly fast (30 days), but going to church every Sunday (and by extension, going to bed earlier on Saturday nights), would drag on and give you more time to think of your actions. Some of the ten commandments are good solid rules of society. Don't kill, don't steal, don't covet, don't lie (unless your going into politics) are basic rules we should all go by. As much as I would like people everywhere to open their minds and cast out antiquated beliefs, until that happens, I'd rather live next door to good religious folk than non-caring criminals.

    September 27, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom Easley

      "I'm an Atheist... I like the idea". Nonsense. If "Duck" is an Atheist, I'm a firetruck. This scheme is just another attempt to use the power of government to impose Christianity on everyone. Yes, unfortunately, some in the majority religion interpret Freedom of Religion as, free to force their religion on everybody. Even the most pious should understand this violates the first Establishment Clause. And the so-called option" is just a transparent ruse. Option or no option, the scheme is an illegal entanglement of church and state.

      September 27, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
  4. VeeVee

    Huh.. Christian or Catholic Church?

    September 27, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
  5. LMFAO

    @ the atheists on this blog.

    September 27, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jailkeeper

    for all the people who picks jail...

    good luck. LOL

    September 27, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sylocat

    So, you have a choice between:

    1. Being stuck in a building with child molesters and con artists,
    2. Going to jail.

    Tough choice.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:01 am | Report abuse |
    • seriouslyomg


      September 28, 2011 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  8. Grace

    Seems to me the choice should be jail or community service (real community service) and not simply attend a church on Sunday. Certainly skates the line between church and state too.

    September 28, 2011 at 1:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Stacks_of_books

      Real Community service, I agree. In my mind that means working at nursing homes or at a community center. I would love to see people have the choice between jail for 30 days or 1 day a week for a year helping someone else. Example of service could be as simple as helping someone in a wheelchair take a "stroll" around town or just spending time listening to people in a nursing room talk about their families and lives. Nurses don't have the time to do this as much as they'd like. Community center always need someone to paint lines on basketball courts, change light bulbs, paint over graffiti, wash windows or push brooms. 1 day a week, for 1 year. Church is only 1 or 2 hours and you can just show up, not listen, fall asleep or nurse your hang over. That does not seem like a step in the right direction.

      September 28, 2011 at 5:42 am | Report abuse |
    • zlholmz

      for staxofbukx: once you have broken the law in this country; esp a felony charge, say marijuana possession, you are basically shut off from ever helping you fellow human thru social programs, anything gov't funded or non-profit. our society cannot make its own choices, thats why most ppl with criminal records are w/o work. all doors are closed to them, they can't mentor, volunteer, what are they to do? i got 3 felonies at 18 in NC for 3 ounces of marijuana, i cannot get hired at taco bell. i have a BS degree i earned after that, graduated 10 years ago and cannot get hired anywhere. there are plenty of drugs out here for one to sell though(wouldn't it be easier to invade colombia and cut off the supply of cocaine than to go half way around the world to fight ppl we armed and trained) i cannot be a big brother, i cannot join the peace corp, the list goes on and on. now if i were rich, a prof athlete, politician, or anyone who steals millions, even billions of dollars, i'd be free to do whatever i wished

      September 28, 2011 at 8:04 am | Report abuse |
  9. RonFromNM

    The American Taliban, hard at work bringing the christian equivalent of sharia law to America

    September 28, 2011 at 2:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Durundal

      Amen! They will cloth themselves in our flag and call themselves patriots

      September 28, 2011 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
  10. Larein

    What if the you already go to every sunday? So then it really doesn't change anything. You basicly do a crime, get caught and dont have to suffer the punishment. I do however support alternatives to prison/jail. Like say community service.

    September 28, 2011 at 5:09 am | Report abuse |
  11. d-man

    you guys with all the negative comments are part of the reason the country is in the shape that its in now (as far as crime). I spent 14 yrs away from church because of boot leg ministers most are from Bay Minette but when i moved to england i found God again. i read a comment that there is 48 churches in Bay Minette well what that say to me is that they have choices. and all this is is an option. they are not saying that you have to go to church they are giving you an alternative and i can gareentee that its gonna make a difference.

    September 28, 2011 at 5:29 am | Report abuse |
  12. Amy

    God is good.

    September 28, 2011 at 7:07 am | Report abuse |
  13. mike nesbitt

    JAIAL or church? IM going tochurch

    September 28, 2011 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
  14. paul

    Let's see, under this law if I become say, a Baptist, I can commit and crime and not worry about penalty because I can choose to go to church which I already do. So you have a whole class of people who get away when they commit a non-violent crime like stealing from the Catholics.

    September 28, 2011 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
  15. Randy

    Just tell them you are a Pastafarian.

    September 28, 2011 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
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