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Drug Offenders Offered Choice of Prison, Treatment, or Church

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A Kentucky judge is allowing some drug offenders to choose attendance at a house of worship over a prison sentence or a stint in treatment, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported May 31.

Many judges offer alternative sentencing, but Laurel District Judge Michael Caperton may be the only one to sentence offenders to church. “The goal is to help people and their families,” said Caperton, a devout Christian. “I don't think there's a church-state issue, because it's not mandatory and I say worship services instead of church.”

Scott Ray Hays, 40, is one smalltime offender who chose to attend religious services. “I stopped going to church a long time ago, but I think going back might help me get my life straightened out,” said Hays.

“This is the first time I've heard of anything like that,” said Bill Dressel, president of the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev. “Alternative sentencing usually requires that people give something back to society through public service.”

Civil libertarians questioned the practice. “The judge is saying that those willing to go to worship services can avoid jail in the same way that those who decline to go cannot,” said David Friedman of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. “That strays from government neutrality towards religion.”

Caperton has offered the church option to offenders in about 50 misdemeanor alcohol or other drug cases. “I saw that our drug problems were getting worse and worse and decided we needed to try something new,” Caperton said. “All the feedback I've gotten on it has been very positive.”

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