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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Guilty as Charged. See ya in Church.

CNN reports that Judge Caperton in Kentucky is sentencing some drug and alcohol offenders to . . . church time?  The ACLU is opposed, of course.

I don't know enough about the particular case to argue one way or the other.  In general, I think that sentences to church time raise some serious red flags, and present quite a bit of potential for abuse.

But I'm wondering about scenarios in which there is a good reason to offer alternative church sentences.  Say that you're a judge in a small town in Kentucky or Alabama or West Virginia, and you've got a batch of DUI's and drug-possession cases.  Your town doesn't have a strong network of social service agencies, but it does have a strong local church which runs a highly regarded, historically effective 12-step program for addicts and alcoholics.

Is it wrong to offer some of these convicts the option of going to the local church 12-step program instead of jail time? 

On the broader level, what should the judge do in cases where it looks like there is a genuine rehabilitation benefit to be gained from channeling some convicted people to a religious organization that has an effective social network that will help them overcome their problems?  Is the judge's only option "sorry, I've got to send you all to the slammer"?  On the one hand, there are fairness issues for prisoners who do not wish to attend church services.  On the other hand, there could be a real loss in rehabilitation for prisoners who would be willing to work with the social programs operated by a church.

(And just to reiterate -- I don't know enough about the Judge Caperton sentences to know whether they meet this pattern, and I'm naturally suspicious of coerced church attendance.  It's usually bad.  But it strikes me that there are cases where it might be a net benefit to society -- how do we handle these?). 

Posted by Kaimi Wenger on June 1, 2005 at 11:51 AM in Criminal Law, Kaimi Wenger, Odd World, Religion | Permalink

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Comments

A few points - First, we are not talking about a 12 step program in KY. This is more of a sentence to attend church as your community service. That does raise the serious red flags and the ACLU is understandably speaking up.
Second - The net benefit to society comes at the cost of the First Amendment. I don't think that is a net benefit. I put a premium on the ideals that founded the nation and sacrificing those ideals is a tough sell. In this situation, we erode the barrier between state-sponsored religion by allowing such practices and I do not want to be in a nation where state-sponsored religion tells me that I worship the wrong way.
Third - If we want to talk about diverting first-time and small-time offenders to 12 step programs, let us look at the drug court scenarios set up across the nation. In these courts you can be sentenced to a 12 step or other rehabilitation program. I am not certain what the requirements are for participation by the programs, but that would seem to be the best way to go about it.
Finally - I do not offer dispensation for rural areas just because they are rural areas. These municipalities may have unique problems that require specifica and special solutions, but that does not extend this far. See my second point, above.

My initial thoughts.

Posted by: Joel | Jun 1, 2005 12:26:10 PM

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