Jesus Saves… $75 Dollars a Day Plus Jail Time
Since I first started lurking here, the issues of what to do with jails has been an ongoing issue. One of the few areas that people here seem to agree on by and large is that the corrections system in this country is to some degree broken and overly expansive. Some of us argue from a point of morality, others note budgetary strains, still more worry about the power the State must be given to make incarceration what it is today. So our reasons for disliking the penal system in America might differ from person to person, but I think it’s safe to say there is a pretty strong consensus that finding new, ‘think outside the box solutions’ are needed. We all agree we need a new direction.
But not this one.
Bay Minette, a small town in Alabama, is now offering those convicted of non-violent crimes two opposing corrective actions. They can choose to go to jail, or they can agree to join and regularly attend one of several local pre-approved Christian churches. Those that do not opt for jail time will need to check in weekly with their pastor in addition to attending regularly.
In theory, someone Jewish or Muslim caught smoking pot might be able to do the same in a synagogue or mosque, but since there are neither in Bay Minette you must presumably convert to Christianity to avoid the jail sentence. In case there is any doubt that this is made to be a pro-Christian and not pro-religious decision, Bay Minette Police Chief Mike Rowland is happy to make things clear: “You show me somebody who falls in love with Jesus, and I’ll show you a person who won’t be a problem to society.” And really, who could even question such a sentiment?
I confess that I like the spirit behind this decision. I am drawn towards solutions other than incarceration for non-violent offenders. And it will save the city $75 per day per inmate. And the thought of some 19-year-old that got caught with a joint not having to spend 18 months behind bars is an unqualified win in my book.
But having a different degree of punishment by the State for non-violent crimes, based entirely on religious belief? For that matter, having a police chief believe that a Christian church go-er wouldn’t be guilty of any crimes, but those Jews or atheists down the road… That just sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy waiting to happen.
So kudos to Bay Minette for thinking outside the box, but a big ol’ slap upside the head for deciding this is the best way.
UPDATE: Michael Cain pointed out that I overstated my case with the line about what the 19-year-old pot smoker might get in court. And he is correct. Were I do have a do-over, I would have phrased something like “And the thought of some 19-year-old arrested for possession not having to spend any amount of time behind bars is an unqualified win in my book” Thanks to MC for the catch.