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Church State Issues

Offenders in Alabama town can choose jail or church

Sep 23, 2011

Arizona Republic Article

Mixing government and religion in Alabama!


Offenders in Alabama town can choose jail or church

Sept. 23, 2011 07:13 AM

Associated Press

BAY MINETTE, Ala. - Authorities say non-violent offenders in southern Alabama will have a new choice: Go to jail, or go to church every Sunday for a year.

The city judge in Bay Minette will let misdemeanor offenders choose to work off their sentences in jail and pay a fine; or go to church every Sunday for a year.

If offenders select church, they'll be allowed to pick the place of worship but must check in weekly with the pastor and police.

If the one-year church attendance program is completed, the offender's case will be dismissed.

Bay Minette Police Chief Mike Rowland says the program could change the lives of people heading down the wrong path. So far, 56 churches are participating.


Alternative-sentencing program set to launch The faith-based Operation ROC program will kick off at Bay Minette’s next Municipal Court session

By Cathy Higgins

Thursday, September 22, 2011 10:36 AM

BAY MINETTE, Ala. — Those convicted of misdemeanor crimes in Bay Minette will have a new sentencing alternative, beginning next month.

Several North Baldwin church leaders involved in developing the alternative-sentencing program, Operation ROC, stood for recognition during the Bay Minette City Council meeting Monday. (CATHY HIGGINS/Staff Photo)

During Monday’s Bay Minette City Council meeting, Bay Minette Police Chief Michael Rowland announced that Operation ROC — or Recover Our Community — will be implemented during the city’s next Municipal Court session on Oct. 11.

Just what is Operation ROC?

“It’s an alternative-sentencing program,” Rowland said.

The program will give non-violent offenders the opportunity to avoid a fine and jail time by committing to regularly attending church in north Baldwin County for one year.

“They choose the church,” he said.

Rowland explained that the selected church will not make any changes. Instead, the idea is to change the enrollee’s values and focus for the better through regular exposure to that church.

To ensure cooperation, though, the pastor will keep the courts apprised of whether the enrollee is regularly attending the church.

“If they (the enrollees) don’t, they get the fine and jail time,” Rowland said.

According to the police chief, the program’s length will be the key to its success.

“There are no 30-day, drug-rehabilitation programs,” Rowland said.

But he admitted that not everyone will be curbed from committing future, worse crimes.

“Not every program is 100 percent,” Rowland said. “But corrections is not working. There are no life values and lessons to be learned by picking up trash on the side of the road.

Operation ROC is the first program of this kind.

“There’s not anything like it in the United States,” Rowland said.

It was devised over the last few months after the police interceded on a shooting-and drug incident in March.

“After that, I was approached by leaders of several churches,” Rowland said, explaining that he then challenged those leaders to come up with a crime-prevention tool.

Now, 56 North Baldwin churches have pledged to support the program, the police chief said.

“Our vision is to reduce crime, spark growth in character and ensure the offender finds help and reaps the benefits and resources the churches have to offer.”

“This is very, very exciting,” Bay Minette Mayor Jamie Tillery said. “We will be guided by great leaders in this.”