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Judge looks to churches in sentencing initiativecomment (0)

April 27, 2014

By By Greg Heyman


The Alabama Baptist

A circuit court judge who believes there has been a breakdown in the state’s incarceration program is taking his case to Alabama’s churches.

Judge Dale Segrest, Circuit Judge Fifth Judicial Circuit, said churches are essential to the success of his “probation sponsorship,” a program he believes will not only lower the state’s incarceration rate, but also give inmates a better chance at making something of their lives.

“The basic idea for probation sponsorship is that defendants can enlist the help of members of their communities to assist them in successfully completing the term of probation,” he said.

Segrest said probation sponsors sign a contract that outlines the nature of the sponsor’s duties, with no financial responsibility on the part of sponsors.

The judge recently made presentations to the Randolph County, East Liberty and Tallapoosa Baptist associations.

“I’m going to make an all out effort to put this program into the hands of the churches, wherever I can find them,” Segrest said, prior to a recent presentation before the Macon County Minister’s Association. “I’m going to go into the individual churches and make the program available to them.”

Segrest said he isn’t trying to tell churches how to do ministry, “I’m just making the opportunity for ministry available to them.” Segrest, who imposes probation sponsorship in his court, said he hopes the concept will become commonplace across the state and eventually the nation. The idea seems to be finding favor among Alabama Baptists.

Firm believer

Ray Baker, correctional ministries consultant with the State Board of Missions, said his office is committed to supporting Segrest. He said his experience serving as sponsor of someone on probation makes him believe the concept will work. “I know it works, and I approve of it,” Baker said.

The program will not only reduce the prison population, but also helps families of inmates, according to Baker.

“The church can help become involved in their lives, so that they can stay together as a family and work on their problems,” Baker said.

“It is necessary for us as Alabama Baptists, because there are so many people who are caught up in the criminal justice system who are Baptists or identify (themselves) as Baptists,” he added.

Community effort

Baker said he has been involved with similar programs in other counties, but Segrest’s initiative is the first time there has been a formal proposal for churches to sponsor inmates on probation. Baker said a program is planned for churches that will train members how to serve as sponsors.

“This is a way for the church to become involved in the total community and not just specifically the people who are members of their church,” Baker said.

Segrest said the program “assures a safer human environment by focusing helpful attention on those who have violated the law.” He offered statistics pointing to the increase in Alabama’s prison population. Segrest said the Alabama Department of Corrections prison population has increased from 5,892 inmates in 1980 to the present 24,778 — 321 percent. At the same time, the budget for the state’s board of pardons and paroles has increased from $2.5 million in 1980 to $12.3 million — 378 percent.

“What we’re doing is not working very well, and I think the churches may have a better solution to some of our problems,” Segrest said. Segrest admits he doesn’t know if the number of inmates in Alabama is a failing of the state or a failing of the church.

“I think there are many missed opportunities for ministry,” Segrest said. During his presentation, Segrest said probation officers have caseloads that are too large and contact with defendants is “inadequate.”

“They meet with them once a month,” he said.

For more information on probation sponsorship, call 256-234-7901 or visit Segrest’s Web site at http://hometown.aol.com/pdsegrest.

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