Guilty as charged . . . see you at church (Part II)

From the Associated Press:

Racist Man Sentenced To Attend Black Church

A judge has sentenced a suburban Cincinnati man to attend services for six weeks at a black church for threatening to punch a black cab driver and using racial slurs.

Last year, I blogged on Prawfsblawg about a case where a judge sentenced substance abusers to church time. Much of what I wrote then applies now as well:

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.

In this case, the judge may honestly believe that special benefits can be achieved by sending the offender to a Black church. The question that I would ask is whether similar benefits could be achieved through less potentially problematic avenues. Why not send the fellow to the local NAACP office?

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