Fugitive Safe Surrender Print
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 16 June 2009 04:45
Last week, 1,281 Fugitives turned themselves into to local law enforcement at a local black church in Harrisburg. And then almost all of them went home. Safe. It was the 14th city since 2005 for a very innovative program: Fugitive Safe Surrender.

Fugitive Safe Surrender is the brainchild of a Christian US Marshal in northern Ohio.

Marshall Peter J. Elliott was brooding over the death of a Cleveland police officer who was killed by a fugitive. He realized that desperate people do desperate things. How could he take the desperation out of facing an outstanding warrant? Then in 2005, an idea occurred to Elliott during a work-out. He'd always felt safe at church (which he attends every week). What if non-violent offenders could surrender in a safe environment - in a church? And Fugitive Safe Surrender was born.

For four days, a local church is turned into a full-fledged court, complete with judges, public defenders, prosecutors and identification equipment such as fingerprinting.

"Most say they turn themselves in because they are tired of running," said Dan Flannery, a criminal justice professor and director of the Institute for the Study and Prevention of Violence at Kent State University. "They're tired of being worried every time a police car pulls up behind them."

Mr. Flannery has been studying Fugitive Safe Surrender and keeping the statistics on the program. Of the people who show up, two-thirds are accompanied by family or a friend, and 85 percent say it's important or very important that they could turn themselves into a church. Mr. Flannery said they are afraid of what would happen if they surrendered at a police station.

When the fugitives reach the door of the church, about 20 percent of them say "I think I'm going to be arrested and go to jail."

In reality, he said, about 6 percent of the fugitives are jailed. The rest are processed, meet with a defense attorney and are seen by a judge. Many receive a new court date.

Many people are in for probation violations, some want to get jobs or go back to school, but they can't because of an outstanding warrant. People who have surrendered ranged in age from 18 to 78, with warrants that are up to a dozen years old. One fascinating stat: 25 % of those who surrender are found to have no current warrants out for their arrest.

When Fugitive Safe Surrender was held in Detroit in July, 2008, 6,500 people surrendered in a city with over 30,000 outstanding warrants.

What a wonderful, creative, compassionate response: As Fr. Michael Sweeney and i emphasized in class, secular competence is essential for the lay Christian who is called to transform the structures of the world. Peter J. Elliott had earned the right, he had the knowledge base, the influence and power to propose something like this and make it fly.

Compassion and Justice. New Lives. No Violence. And the mediating role of the Christian community is not only recognized but central.

Praise God. Thank God for secular apostles like Peter J. Elliott.