Beliefnet News

Commit a misdemeanor in Baldwin County, Alabama’s county seat — Bay Minette, population 7,726 — and it’s possible to stay out of jail by going to church.

The new policy in Municipal Court begins next week. It is “being praised as a potential opportunity to turn lives around,” writes Billy Hallowell for the Blaze news website. However, he notes, it “is sure to agitate church and state separatists.” However, 56 local pastors are enthusiastic about making it work. Offenders can choose between them — or opt to serve their time behind bars.

The initiative, called Operation Restore Our Community, is simple: If offenders complete one year of church attendance, their case will be dismissed, notes Hallowell:

The program allows for flexibility, as individuals will be able to select the place of worship they wish to attend. Those who choose this option must meet with pastors and police weekly to ensure that they are completing the initiative as planned. So far, 56 area churches are participating in the ROC program.

Some, though, may be wondering why a church program would be offered as an alternative to incarceration. Utilizing churches as a way to address non-violent crime may, some say, provide individuals with support services as well as an environment that is more friendly to assisting them in changing their lives.

During a time when local communities find themselves strapped for cash, this program may offer relief. According to Bay Minette Police Chief Mike Rowland, it costs $75 per inmate, per day to house prisoners. By placing non-violent criminals into community programs, the cost of incarceration may be brought down substantially.

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