Sept. 26, 2011
According to the residents of Bay Minette, Alabama, church attendance is an effective way to reduce repeat crime. They are implementing Operation Restore Our Community, which provides perpetrators of non-violent misdemeanors the opportunity to replace jail time with a year of attending weekly religious services at a place of worship of the offenders choosing. So far, 56 area churches have signed up to participate in the program, which requires the criminal to check-in with a pastor and the police department every week to verify attendance.
The ACLU plans to send a letter to Bay Minette demanding that the program be stopped because it violates the Separation of Church and State on the grounds that it forces church attendance. However, the program simply allows non-violent criminals to choose an alternative to what would have been their only choice previously: time behind bars and a fine. It even allows the offender to choose their specific place of worship. In no way does the justice system force an offender to choose the alternative of church attendance.
However, the new program does provide positive economic benefits for the Bay Minette community. According to an article by local news station WKRG, Bay Minette Police Chief Mike Rowland says that the daily cost of holding a prisoner in jail is 75 dollars. Multiply that amount for a jail sentence, and it becomes quite expensive to dispense justice. On the other hand, if a potential inmate is allowed to integrate into society and hopefully obtain a job, not only will he or she be working towards a successful life path, but he or she will be able to contribute to the local economy, as opposed to being sustained in jail by tax dollars.
Religious affiliation or church attendance does seem to have a positive effect on crime rates. According to studies conducted by scholars at multiple universities, as well as FRCs own Senior Fellow Dr. Pat Fagan, adolescents attending church services weekly show significantly lower crime rates than their counterparts who worship monthly or not at all. A study focusing on theft shows, Thirteen percent of students in Grades 7-12 who attend religious services at least weekly admit to having stolen at least $50 worth of goods... By comparison, 19 percent of those who never worship, 14 percent of those who worship one to three times a month, and 18 percent of those who attend religious services less than once a month have committed such thefts. After a year of attending religious services, it can be hoped that a similar effect would take place among offenders as well.
Based on the combined factors of economic benefit and positive moral reinforcement, Operation Restore Our Community should be an interesting example of how a community can join together to help local non-violent offenders get their lives on the right track, and hopefully get their spiritual lives on the right track as well. As Bay Minette Pastor Robert Gates said, You show me someone who falls in love with Jesus and Ill show you a person who wont be a problem to society, but that will be a help and an influence to those around them.