Alabama program aims to trade jail time for church

By Erica Andrews

Operation Restore Our Community—a new program in Bay Minette, Ala.—is hoping to keep criminals out of jail by trading incarceration with church attendance; 56 churches agreed to participate.

“It’s not a crime prevention program,” Bay Minette Police Chief Mike Rowland told MSNBC. “It’s a crime intervention program.”

Currently, judges provide first-time offenders a sentencing option of jail time or community service. Restore Our Community would provide a third option—attending Sunday church services and checking in with the pastor.

“What we wanted to do is target that group of people who most likely would have a chance to be more productive in our community,” Rowland said.

However, several civil rights groups are opposed to this program calling it unconstitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union sent a cease-and-desist letter to the program Sept. 26, maintaining that church and state should always remain separate.

Because Operation Restore Our Community is voluntary, the issue is complicated. At present, the Bay Minette City Council is sorting out the legal concerns of the program.

The Salvation Army in Alabama is also working to provide alternative options to incarceration through the Dauphin Way Lodge and Corps Salvage Rehabilitation Program. Area Commander Major Alan Hill explained that these programs are very active in Mobile, Ala.

“Because a large portion of the prison population has an addiction problem this has been the focus of the Army here in Mobile,” Hill said. “Many who are facing time in prison go into our treatment program…giving the community a better option than prison.”

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