Jail or church? Church every time

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Criminals in Bay Minette may soon have the choice between the house of corrections and the house of God.

The announcement made last week by the police department, which, at last Census count, serves just shy of 8,000 people, detailed the city would try an alternative sentencing program that would give non-violent offenders a new choice: Go to jail, or go to church.

Called “Operation Restore Our Community,” the program will allow a city judge to sentence misdemeanor offenders to work off their sentences in jail and pay a fine, or go to church every Sunday for a year.

Offenders who select church can pick the place of worship but must check in weekly with the pastor and the police department. If the one-year church attendance program is completed successfully, the offender’s case will be dismissed.

“It’s an easy choice for me,” Bay Minette Police Chief Michael Rowland told a Mobile television station last week. “If I was given the choice of going to jail and paying a heavy fine or just going to church, I’d certainly select church.”

Hmmmm….that doesn’t seem to be a difficult decision for me either there, Chief, but some think the new measure crosses the line between separation of church and state – namely the American Civil Liberties Union – who calls the operation “blatantly unconstitutional.”

On Friday, the state branch of the ACLU said it planned to send Bay Minette officials a letter demanding that they suspend the program, because while they says it supports alternative sentencing programs that save money, it believes the plan violates the Constitution.

Rowland said the hope behind the program is that the prisoners will turn into “productive citizens.” He said he hopes to get approval from the city attorney and implement the program Oct. 11, the next session of municipal court.

He said he didn’t think the program crossed the line because prisoners can choose whether or not they want to participate, and if so, what church they’d like to attend.

I have to agree with him on that point.

In thinking about it, I would agree with him on all of his points, and here’s why – I have this cousin. He’s battled with drug addiction and with taking things that aren’t his to pay for that addiction. He’s fought with it since early adulthood.

I can’t even tell you what he was charged with first, whether it was a misdemeanor or a felony. But, he’s smart, loved computers and I can only imagine what his life would have been like had he had some kind of intervention of this kind.

Think about it – at church, you got good food, good music and good friends. What better place to begin trying to put your life back in order if you’ve fallen off the track? I can’t think of one.