In Bay Minette, Alabama, non-violent offenders are now given a choice: to work off their fines in jail and pay a fine, or go to church every Sunday for a year. So what will it be in this either/or situation of prison and church?
How about just church and no prison? The Alabama law recognizes the powerful influence of religion and church attendance, and rightly so. Studies show that only 5% of children who currently sit in the pews at least once a week are at some point arrested, compared with 11% of those who never attend church. Even a little religious attendance helps behavior: only 7% of children who attend church at least once a month are arrested.
Not only does religion work to minimize the risk of arrest: Byron Johnson of Baylor University and colleagues examined data from the National Youth Survey, and they found that the greater the religious involvement of black youth, the lower is the occurrence of “serious crime,” including felony assault, robbery, felony theft, prostitution, and selling drugs.
We will see how effective the Alabama law is at reforming or dissuading criminals in the future. But the numbers tell the story: religious attendance is beneficial for society.