Non-violent offenders in Bay Minette, Alabama, are going to face a choice: Either go to jail and pay a fine or go to church every Sunday for one year. This new policy, which begins next week and is being praised as a potential opportunity to turn lives around, is sure to agitate church and state separatists.
The initiative, called Operation Restore Our Community (ROC), will allow misdemeanor offenders to opt for church worship rather than jail. The concept is simple: If they complete the one-year church program, their case will be dismissed.
The program allows for flexibility, as individuals will be able to select the place of worship they wish to attend. Those who choose this option must meet with pastors and police weekly to ensure that they are completing the initiative as planned. So far, 56 area churches are participating in the ROC program.
Some, though, may be wondering why a church program would be offered as an alternative to incarceration. Utilizing churches as a way to address non-violent crime may, some say, provide individuals with support services as well as an environment that is more friendly to assisting them in changing their lives.
During a time when local communities find themselves strapped for cash, this program may offer relief. According to Bay Minette Police Chief Mike Rowland, it costs $75 per inmate, per day to house prisoners. By placing non-violent criminals into community programs, the cost of incarceration may be brought down substantially.
Rowland has already responded to individuals who may have an issue with the religious nature of the punishment offered. He claims that the provision doesn't violate separation of church and state mandates due to the fact that offenders are able to choose whether they wish to go to jail or worship weekly.
It's certainly a unique approach. If it works, other communities could follow suit.