Alabama town to let criminals choose: jail or church?

Alex Pappas | Political Reporter

Convicted nonviolent criminals in a south Alabama town will soon have an alternative to paying a fine and going to jail: Go to church for a year.

The police chief in the town of Bay Minette, Ala. plans to start the program this week, according to the Press-Register newspaper in Alabama. The program is being protested by the ACLU of Alabama.

The police chief, Mike Rowland, said the program, “Restore Our Community” (ROC), is voluntary, could save money and could instill values in offenders to keep them out of jail. He told local station WKRG that it costs his department about $75 to house inmates every day.

“Operation ROC resulted from meetings with church leaders,” Rowland told the Press-Register. “It was agreed by all the pastors that at the core of the crime problem was the erosion of family values and morals. We have children raising children and parents not instilling values in young people.”

But civil liberty groups aren’t pleased, saying ROC crosses the separation of church and state.

“This policy is blatantly unconstitutional,” Olivia Turner, executive director for the ACLU of Alabama, told the state’s Press-Register. “It violates one basic tenet of the Constitution, namely that government can’t force participation in religious activity.”

The ACLU said they “are considering options for response.”

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