Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Oh, I do love a good controversy . . .

The small southern Alabama town of Bay Minette is giving non-violent offenders a chance to pick between lockup and church.

Operation Restore Our Community will have a city judge offer those found guilty of misdemeanors the choice between working off their offenses in jail and paying a fine or attending the church of their choice every week for a year. WKRG-TV in Mobile, Ala., reported 56 churches in North Baldwin County are participating in the program.

If miscreants choose church, they can check in each week with the pastor or the police department. When the program is completed successfully their case will be dropped.

Bay Minette Police Chief Mike Rowland says it costs his department about $75 a day to jail offenders, so the ROC program is cost-effective. "Longevity is the key," he explained in a television interview. "A 30-day drug program doesn't work. A 30-day alcohol program does not work. But long-term programs to do work, and we believe that's what'll happen here."

Rowland says that there is no separation of church and state boundary crossed here.

I can hear it now: the ACLU, the Jewish Defense League . . . people are being forced into Christianity . . .

Offenders are offered their choice of worship, but I am not sure if there is a synagogue nearby. Nor would I expect to find a Muslim option. The secular choice—well, that would be jail.

We all know how ineffectual drug rehab can be. Is religion the answer? Are congregations being put at risk? Will offering plates be a bit lighter when returned to the front of the building?

What do you think?

Update: Implementation of this program has been delayed while legal issues are examined.

Love from Delta.


  1. I am of the belief that accepting any religion is a matter of choice, not mandate. My brother is very active in a youth prison alternative religious program. He, of course, speaks highly of it. Personally, I believe the youth of today has been trained to respond the way they think will do them the best service, at the moment. I am sure that this will produce some outstanding stories and is probably worth trying.

  2. Given the fact that the US is the most churchgoing nation on Earth, we should be a paradise of crime-free existence. But we're not. In fact, the Bible Belt states lead in crime, divorce, abuse, and violence statistics. Besides the fact that it's a blatant violation of the separation of church and state. And it's dumb.

    Education is the only thing that has a proven effect on limiting recidivism, but the elimination of prison education programs were usually major planks in Republican gubernatorial campaigns.

    As an atheist, I guess I'd be stuck on the chain gang.

  3. Wow. As an atheist I find this sort of funny. However, I think it would probably have the desired effect but not for the reasons the proponents probably expect. Getting people active in a supportive community is a good thing. If nothing else, it would give these people a place to be once a week. I'm not sure that the "Christians" in the churches would open them with open arms, though. It is probably unconstitutional, as well. Perhaps it would be okay if there was an option to attend some sort of weekly secular meeting instead. People could choose between religious services of their choosing or AA meetings, yoga classes, pottery classes, etc. Anything that would get them involved in a social group that is not centered around crime.

  4. Sweenan, I would argue that certain theocracies outpace the US in church-going on a per-capita basis. In general, religion has never claimed to create or maintain a crime-free existence.
    Carolyn, I think you are definitely onto something with your observation about the positive social aspects of the program. It would certainly be preferable to the social interaction in prisons.
    It should be noted that those participating in the program have the option to withdraw and choose another form of sentence.

  5. Prison Fellowship has had some very well received and got good results with in prison programs.The people who went through the programs had very little recidivism. I'm not sure they could have reached them if they weren't in prison.
    The Prison fellowship program connects the men(or women) with church members when they get out. The in prison program is entirely voluntary. The other program is not, except they choose church or prison.

  6. Love this, love the comments, love the choice.