The town of Bay Minette, Alabama as developed an unusual alternative sentencing program for non-violent first time offenders. The program allows eligible offenders to choose one year of attendance at the church of their choosing. So far 65 churches have agreed to participate in the program. According to Police Chief Mike Rowland the program is a part of Restore Our Community (ROC). A group of local churches developed the program to provide a community support system/intervention for non-violent offenders. Currently the program is on hold because of legal actions by the ACLU.
I am certainly in favor of alternative sentencing for non-violent and first time offenders. I think that jail or prison is not always the best option for those who pose no threat to the community. Consequences should be a logical result of the offense and in proportion to severity of the offense. For example: Sentencing a teenager charged with destroying the swings at the local park to repairing the damage.
However, I’m not comfortable with sentencing someone to church. There are many unanswered questions. Are options available for those of different faiths or no-faith? Is one church going to be favored over the others? I do commend the churches for taking the initiative to become a vital part of their community. I would certainly like to see the results of the program.