Church Instead of Jail

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Church Instead of Jail

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44619557/ns/local_news-mobile_al/t/new-sentencing-option-church-instead-jail/

For some reason it's not letting me copy and paste, but to summarize, under a new plan in AL, judges will have the option to let people go to church every Sunday for a year instead of doing community service or jail time.

Is this a good idea to rehabilitate criminals? Do you think that going to church for a year will be more or less effective than more traditional modes of punishment such as jail or community service? Also, do you think this is constitutional?

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1- might actually reduce the recidivism rate, our local Thugs off Drugs have had great sucess in bringing their guys to local churches. It gives the men real support, a group of people who understand them and will support them, and wants the best for them, instead of either having no support system or a group that tries to get them back into the same trouble.
2- Depends on the crime.
3- Probably not consitutional... But if it was given as an option along side the service (for the same amount of time) I think a case for it being constitutional might be made.

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I like the concept behind it, but I would be intrigued to find out what 56 churches volunteered. It seems like a small amount of churches for an entire state. I don't think it's constitutional if the churches are geared solely on specific traditional religions. Imagine if the criminal had to choose between a religion they don't/can't associate with (but wanted to go to a church of their choice instead) or do community service.

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That link isn't working for me... Sad

Going to church for what? A one-hour service on Sunday? That's 52 hours over the year, and I don't think community service requirements are usually that low, are they? Are we talking about allowing convicts to serve their required hours of community service time at a church doing good deeds instead of at a homeless shelter or cleaning roadways? I don't have a problem with that as long as it's their choice and both the program and the convict are properly supervised.

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http://blog.al.com/live/2011/09/bay_minette_alternative_senten.html

Rowland said he was doubtful, however, that an atheist would choose to participate in the ROC program, but would be able to choose community service or other options.

eta-It's a small city, not the whole state and 56 is a lot since it's mainly a suburb of Mobile (which is tiny too).

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Stacey, here we go. I was able to copy this time.

(BAY MINETTE, Ala.) - A Baldwin County city is turning to churches instead as an option to keep criminals out of jail.

"It's not a crime prevention program,' Bay Minette Police Chief Mike Rowland said, "It's a crime intervention program."

Pastor Bruce Hooks says he's ready to give it a try.

"Oh, yeah! I'm excited, man. I'm eager, anticipating!"

The chief and the pastor are talking about a new initiative that, with the help of a judge, would allow some first time offenders to wind up in church rather than jail.

Fifty-six churches have agreed to take part in Operation ROC: Restore Our Community.
"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.

Judges who currently sentence offenders to jail time or community service would have another option to offer qualifying first time, non-violent offenders. Instead of going to jail for a year, that offender could choose to avoid a cell entirely and go to Sunday church services for a year.

"We're hoping that," Rowland explained, "through this program for the next year, we will take a substancial number who are sentenced and turn them around and let them become productive people in the community."

It's a partnership where pastors would monitor attendance and offenders would have to check in . If it works, the the department and local clergy believe the idea could save money and restore lives.

"We want to teach them that they're valuable," Hooks said, "that God has a plan, God has a purpose. That they can be successful, that they possibly can become the person that God wants them to become."

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Yeah, 104 churches for one city is quite a bit with 56 participating. Does that community have mosques and synagogues? What are the other options besides community service? If they have a provision for out of town convictions to participate in their own community, are they open to those that live locally to participate in the church of their own choice as well? My hunch is that while the idea may be noble, it will most likely be remanded.

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As an atheist under this program, I would like to spend my Sundays practicing my own beliefs and get out of jail for it. No? Why, does that mean that the US government is expressing a preference for one belief system over another? That hardly seems legal! Wink

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"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

As an atheist under this program, I would like to spend my Sundays practicing my own beliefs and get out of jail for it. No? Why, does that mean that the US government is expressing a preference for one belief system over another? That hardly seems legal! Wink

But its more about COMMUNITY than it is about their beliefs in this case. Do you get together with a group of Athiests once a week and talk about how to live a better life and help your neighbor and the community? If so you could probably get on the list. It would allow them to meet people who would probably be a better influence than the group they are currently friends with. I don't see a problem with it as long as they have the choice to do it or not.

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Thanks, Alissa! And that's what I was afraid it might be. A year in jail (24 hours a day) vs. Sunday services for an hour or two a week. I don't see any requirement to be part of the church community or do any service for or with the church, only attend services. This plan is wishful thinking at best, hoping these convicts will become good citizens by seeing good examples around them, and that's assuming these church people are actually setting good examples and the convicts are actually paying attention. Sounds like a great deal to me, and this atheist would sign up to avoid a year in jail; I can handle ignoring 52 hours of preaching in exchange for 8708 hours of freedom. Wink

Instead of going to jail for a year, that offender could choose to avoid a cell entirely and go to Sunday church services for a year.

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"GloriaInTX" wrote:

But its more about COMMUNITY than it is about their beliefs in this case. Do you get together with a group of Athiests once a week and talk about how to live a better life and help your neighbor and the community? If so you could probably get on the list. It would allow them to meet people who would probably be a better influence than the group they are currently friends with. I don't see a problem with it as long as they have the choice to do it or not.

Nope. My beliefs do not require me to get together with a group of anybody to talk about anything. But, surely you concur that if religious folks can get out of jail to practice their beliefs, the only fair thing is to let non-religious folks out of jail to practice their beliefs too. Otherwise, what you are saying is that one group's beliefs are superior in that they are more likely to keep the members out of trouble and help them be better citizens. I realize that religious folks do believe that their beliefs and practices are superior, but do really think that the government should be allowed to show that kind of favoritism? If it was just about community and people getting together to talk about how to live a better life, they could just as easily sentence them to a once weekly support group.

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More info from different articles I've read;

*They have to be able to answer questions about the sermon and check in with the police station every week along with getting the preacher/priest to sign a paper saying they showed up.
*Currently Christianity is the only organized religion that is participating, but there is nothing stopping any group with the same thoughts to get added.
*40 out of those involved in the program also offer different classes on many different programs like drug abuse, parenting, alcoholism, and the like. The support groups are already in place.
* This is only for first time non-violent misdeamonors. The amount of time spent in jail would be substantially less than a year from what I understand of the law. I would dare say that a visit to the police station and church for 52 visits would probably take more time than the jail time.
*This saves the county $75 a day that the offenders would serve
*The option to perform community service or pay a fine or take your jail time or go to church doesn't sound like discrimination to me unless the legislation said Christian in it. I bet it doesn't which would allow anyone that wants to to apply to be part of it.

In the military we have Chaplains. Their core beliefs are normally Christian. However, at both bases I spent a lot of time at, there were Atheists groups hosted in the same building twice a week just like any of the different denomination services offered.

Why wouldn't someone choose to participate in *any* community event before going to jail?

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"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

Nope. My beliefs do not require me to get together with a group of anybody to talk about anything. But, surely you concur that if religious folks can get out of jail to practice their beliefs, the only fair thing is to let non-religious folks out of jail to practice their beliefs too. Otherwise, what you are saying is that one group's beliefs are superior in that they are more likely to keep the members out of trouble and help them be better citizens. I realize that religious folks do believe that their beliefs and practices are superior, but do really think that the government should be allowed to show that kind of favoritism? If it was just about community and people getting together to talk about how to live a better life, they could just as easily sentence them to a once weekly support group.

But aren't they doing that by giving them an either/or choice? If their beliefs don't require that they get together with a group for church then can do some kind of community service project that does. Isn't that essentially what COMMUNITY service is? They can go to a food bank or some other similar group that serves the community instead. The whole idea is to be with a group of people that can influence them to do better.

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"GloriaInTX" wrote:

But aren't they doing that by giving them an either/or choice? If their beliefs don't require that they get together with a group for church then can do some kind of community service project that does. Isn't that essentially what COMMUNITY service is? They can go to a food bank or some other similar group that serves the community instead. The whole idea is to be with a group of people that can influence them to do better.

I always thought that the idea of community service was to repay the community for the damage that you had done by committing a crime. I don't see how just going to church is repaying the community for anything. And again, that is working off of the assumption that purely going to church will influence people to be a better person. Why is one person's belief system more likely to influence them to be a better person than mine is? Again, I realize that is what religious people believe - that their religion will make someone a better person. I just don't see how the government can show a preference like that.

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"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

I always thought that the idea of community service was to repay the community for the damage that you had done by committing a crime. I don't see how just going to church is repaying the community for anything. And again, that is working off of the assumption that purely going to church will influence people to be a better person. Why is one person's belief system more likely to influence them to be a better person than mine is? Again, I realize that is what religious people believe - that their religion will make someone a better person. I just don't see how the government can show a preference like that.

No one is saying that. I already said that if Athiests got together in a group than they should be able to get on the list. They are not showing a preference if it is a choice.

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"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

I always thought that the idea of community service was to repay the community for the damage that you had done by committing a crime. I don't see how just going to church is repaying the community for anything.

Ditto this. You do the crime, you do the time. Either in jail or by doing community service.

I'm still having a problem with the amount of time of community service vs. church. In CA you can often ask for community service to pay off fines you can't afford, at $10/hour, so a $1000 fine would be 100 hours. I'm guessing something that has a penalty of a year in jail would have a much higher fine than $1K and thus a higher community service requirement. But in this AL county, under this proposal, someone facing a year in jail can go to church for as little as an hour a week and be off scot-free in a year. That's not right.

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"GloriaInTX" wrote:

No one is saying that. I already said that if Athiests got together in a group than they should be able to get on the list. They are not showing a preference if it is a choice.

But an atheist's belief system doesn't require us to get together with anyone and discuss our beliefs. That is trying to apply a the organized religious format to atheist's belief system on the assumption that this format is superior for turning out productive citizens. Just because atheists don't follow your beliefs or your format doesn't mean that we don't have our own ways of finding meaning and celebrating life and trying to become better people. So, if a Christian can spend their Sundays listening to sermons and studying the bible, I think that an atheist should get the same credit for spending his/her Sundays enjoying their families, enjoying nature, et cetera. If you want, s/he could promise to also read some Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Smile My point is, if the government says that an atheist practicing their belief systems in their own way isn't "good enough" to substitute for jail time, but a Christian practicing their belief system in their way IS good enough, then that shows an obvious preference for the Christian's belief system. If you don't think that I am capable of becoming a better person through independent study and meditation, but I am capable of becoming a better person through listening to a sermon, you are, in fact, calling the sermon superior to that purpose.

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I don't think it's the sermon so much as the human interaction with access to the classes that people might be able to take advantage of. Like I said, on our military bases, the chaplain holds an Atheist meeting for them to just be together. I've never been, but I'm sure it's the same experience that you basically get in church which is that you are part of a community or extended family.

The sheriff noted in one of his interviews that it was a lack of family values and morals that leads to crime and I can't help but agree. Not that going to church specifically will lead to less crime, but definitely being part of a larger group with a purpose.

If you've ever volunteered in an organization with lots of people that are involved for a specific purpose (visiting elderly, playing with disadvantaged kids, serving soup to the homeless) than you know that there is a feeling of belonging and well-being that you can't get from many other things. Some people get it from church, some from volunteering, but they all involve contact with other human beings.

You can become a better person from independant study and meditation, but there is no one to sign for that particular instance of betterment. And how many people that have the misdeamoner pending are actually going to do it without someone watching them? Honestly?

eta-couldn't an Atheist start a group walk through nature for the people that are going to be given the choice? Also, aren't Atheist a very very very small portion of the criminal population?

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So if it is the human interaction, why are they quizzing on the content of the sermons? If you just need the interaction, having the "content" shouldn't really matter, right? Also, if it is just the human interaction, I would think they would give the same credit for any club that provides that sort of thing; like, book clubs. Do you think people should avoid jail time as long as they sign up for a once a week book club?

ETA: And yes, you are right, atheists are typically a disproportionately small number of the prison population. Which, if anything, is a good argument that the atheist belief system conductive to avoiding criminal behavior. Blum 3

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"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

ETA: And yes, you are right, atheists are typically a disproportionately small number of the prison population. Which, if anything, is a good argument that the atheist belief system conductive to avoiding criminal behavior. Blum 3

Yes, we should be assigning people in jail to read Dawkins instead of letting them listen to someone else read out of another book like the bible or Koran.

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I think that it is a terrible idea and I am against it.

That said, if more "atheist organizations" not only existed, but showed an interest in shepherding or mentoring convicts, I'm sure that they could get on board. I bet that the UU church would be all over this. Ditto Quakers. I do agree with Lillie that COMMUNITY is helpful to people at risk, (and that community can take many different forms) but this sort of program requires some sort of organized community structure to work. if Non Christian groups are allowed or encouraged to participate, but none show interest, it is hard to blame the Christians, don't you think.

Hard to get mad that you didn't get invited to the party if you don't even have an address, isn't it?

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I'm not blaming the Christians. I'm not even saying they shouldn't be allowed to do it. I'm just arguing that if Christians are allowed to get time out of jail for practicing their beliefs according to their customs, others, including atheists, need to get the same treatment.

I get what you guys are saying about community, but I think that typically the community needs to address the actual problems that the individual is facing. That is why AA and programs like it are successful - it is a group of people that are all dealing with the same issues and can relate to each other and talk about those issues. I don't think it's enough to just be in the same room with a bunch of people - otherwise you could call going to the mall or the library "community" too. I can vouch from having been to my parent's church several times in recent years, it is entirely possible to go to church and not say a word to another person, and they may or may not be talking about something that impacts you. Last time I went to my parent's church, they were talking about missionaries to China.

And again, if it was all about the community, why would someone have to take a quiz about the content of the sermons?

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"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

And again, if it was all about the community, why would someone have to take a quiz about the content of the sermons?

Alissa, I would think the suggestion that there would be a quiz on content would be simply to insure that they remained present (and actively "participating" through listening) for the entire service... instead of checking in and skipping out. I'd like to guess if an alternative such as the nature walk was suggested that a similar quiz on where they went, what they saw, etc. would be required... again to prove the person actually was present.

I'm still not sure how I feel about this proposal. I'm sure that the intended premise is a good one but I really am uncomfortable with the idea of somewhat forced/required religion that this feels like in relationship to the alternatives. If someone is faced with a year of jail time they are very likely to lose their job, home, etc. (if they haven't already.) Not to mention the impact that it could have on their kids (if any) to be separated from their parent for that length of time. (YES - those are absolutely consequences that they should have thought of before doing the crime, but obviously some don't think or are so immersed in addictions or not seeing another way out that they turn to crime.)

My personal faith is just that.... personal... and one that I choose freely. To me, forcing someone to attend services would seem then to present a negative connotation that the person would more likely become *more* resentful of vs. finding a positive.

Again, I get that the spirit of the idea is a good one. It was mentioned that many of these churches offered a variety of support programs. There are probably other similar groups available within the community as well. I would feel more comfortable with the law offering the option for the person to choose from a select list of support groups (tailored to whatever their particular issue was that appeared to drive them to do the crime in the first place.) The list could include those associated with / sponsored by churches or secular... with the person getting to choose which they wanted. (Obviously this would be still with the option of other community service and/or fine, or jail time.) Require participation in one of those addressing to provide support of breaking free of the underlying issue -- whether it is alcohol, drug, or sex addictions, gang related, job/career training (for those feeling trapped in poverty), parenting, or anger management, counseling, etc. If the judge feels that those type of classes or group therapy sessions would benefit the offender, then give them that choice as an alternative. It would still provide the belonging to a community and tailored to the particular problem(s) involved.

Churches seeking to reach out and offer their support to those within the community that they feel could most benefit from their message may continue to do outreach, through advertising, word of mouth sharing, and sponsoring events that would likely attract those that are open (willingly) to hearing their message.

~Missy

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"MissyJ" wrote:

Alissa, I would think the suggestion that there would be a quiz on content would be simply to insure that they remained present (and actively "participating" through listening) for the entire service... instead of checking in and skipping out. I'd like to guess if an alternative such as the nature walk was suggested that a similar quiz on where they went, what they saw, etc. would be required... again to prove the person actually was present.

I'm still not sure how I feel about this proposal. I'm sure that the intended premise is a good one but I really am uncomfortable with the idea of somewhat forced/required religion that this feels like in relationship to the alternatives. If someone is faced with a year of jail time they are very likely to lose their job, home, etc. (if they haven't already.) Not to mention the impact that it could have on their kids (if any) to be separated from their parent for that length of time. (YES - those are absolutely consequences that they should have thought of before doing the crime, but obviously some don't think or are so immersed in addictions or not seeing another way out that they turn to crime.)

My personal faith is just that.... personal... and one that I choose freely. To me, forcing someone to attend services would seem then to present a negative connotation that the person would more likely become *more* resentful of vs. finding a positive.

Again, I get that the spirit of the idea is a good one. It was mentioned that many of these churches offered a variety of support programs. There are probably other similar groups available within the community as well. I would feel more comfortable with the law offering the option for the person to choose from a select list of support groups (tailored to whatever their particular issue was that appeared to drive them to do the crime in the first place.) The list could include those associated with / sponsored by churches or secular... with the person getting to choose which they wanted. (Obviously this would be still with the option of other community service and/or fine, or jail time.) Require participation in one of those addressing to provide support of breaking free of the underlying issue -- whether it is alcohol, drug, or sex addictions, gang related, job/career training (for those feeling trapped in poverty), parenting, or anger management, counseling, etc. If the judge feels that those type of classes or group therapy sessions would benefit the offender, then give them that choice as an alternative. It would still provide the belonging to a community and tailored to the particular problem(s) involved.

Churches seeking to reach out and offer their support to those within the community that they feel could most benefit from their message may continue to do outreach, through advertising, word of mouth sharing, and sponsoring events that would likely attract those that are open (willingly) to hearing their message.

~Missy

I like this idea much better! You should propose it to their legislation as I think this would legally hold up much better. I know in our drug courts, we do mandate they participate with support groups as well as be assigned a case manager to keep them on track as part of their sentencing to stay out of jail. I don't know if they already have a similar plan in place there.

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"Alissa_Sal" wrote:

I'm not blaming the Christians. I'm not even saying they shouldn't be allowed to do it. I'm just arguing that if Christians are allowed to get time out of jail for practicing their beliefs according to their customs, others, including atheists, need to get the same treatment.

I get what you guys are saying about community, but I think that typically the community needs to address the actual problems that the individual is facing. That is why AA and programs like it are successful - it is a group of people that are all dealing with the same issues and can relate to each other and talk about those issues. I don't think it's enough to just be in the same room with a bunch of people - otherwise you could call going to the mall or the library "community" too. I can vouch from having been to my parent's church several times in recent years, it is entirely possible to go to church and not say a word to another person, and they may or may not be talking about something that impacts you. Last time I went to my parent's church, they were talking about missionaries to China.

And again, if it was all about the community, why would someone have to take a quiz about the content of the sermons?

I'd be willing to bet that many of the people who accept this offer aren't Christians. Professing ones faith wasn't a requirement, was it (I may have missed that?). Heck, I have lots of non believer friends who would willingly sit through church for 52 weeks to avoid jail time.

I would argue that going to the mall lacks the same purpose or actual spirit of communion (not in the literal sense of eating bread, but in the sense of coming together for a singular purpose). Though one week may be devoted to missions, over the course of 52 sermons that they are forced to listen to (due to the reporting aspect) there should at least be SOME message or nugget of wisdom that perhaps they could at least relate to. Due to weekly meetings with the pastor I think that some iota of relationship is forced, by the very nature of the set up, to develop in a way more meaningful way than one would with the occasional sales clerk at the mall.

I'd assume that they have to take a quiz to ensure that they were not sleeping through the sermon. Like you have to get something signed if you attend a mandatory court ordered AA meeting, and any sponsor or group leader worth his/her salt would not sign off on attendance for someone who slept through the meeting or came in drunk.

Missy, I disagree with you that forcing it can always create resentment or disinterest. I know several people who were forced to attend AA after DUI's and came to realize that they needed help....and kept going long after the court mandated attendance. Sometimes the whole "fake it till you make it" thing does work.