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Safe Surrender offers neutral environment for offenders

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By Alice Du Pont

On any given day there are between 8,000 and 9,000 warrants bearing the names of Gadsden County residents. Some of these offenders have multiple warrants, which adds to the numbers when warrants are tallied.

Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young said he plans to piggyback on a program initiated by the United States Marshals Service, which will make it easy for people with warrants to surrender in a safe and neutral environment. In most cases, the individuals can clear their records in a matter of hours.

The Safe Surrender program has been finalized and all that's left is to locate faith-based sites in the county that will agree to take part in the progam.

Young has been talking with ministers throughout the county to explain the program and to enlist their support. Local judges and the State Attorney's Office agree that the program is a good candidate for success in Gadsden County.

"It's a great program and I believe it will help us clear up some of these warrants – many of them are over 5 years old – and at the same time remove a cloud that hangs over the heads of some of our citizens," Young said.

According to information released by the United States Marshals Service, the program has been highly successful because it encourages people wanted for non-violent felony or misdemeanor crimes to voluntarily surrender to the law in a faith-based or neutral setting.

People who are aware there are warrants for their arrest don't come forward because they believe they will be arrested immediately.

But, Young said, according to statistics he has seen from other cities that have the program, the opposite is true.

"All cases are different and we can't guarantee that just because you surrender, you will not go to jail. What I will say is that, in most locations, 90 percent of the people who turn themselves under Safe Surrender do not go to jail. They are released directly from the church where they have surrendered. The entire process takes only a few hours," Young said.

The reason most of these offenders do not go to jail is because they have not committed violent crimes and have no history of violent crimes, according to Young.

The program, he said, is meant for those who have warrants for things such as petty theft, possession of drug paraphernalia, disorderly intoxication and obtaining property and services by passing worthless bank checks.

While Gadsden County may be the smallest county to become involved in the program, Young feels it will work. Since most of the people with warrants still live in the county, the program will greatly benefit citizens.

"This program will mainly benefit people with warrants issued in Gadsden County and who live in the county. But if they have a warrant in a different county, they can surrender to our program but they have a greater chance of being taken into custody from the city or county where the warrant has been issued," he said.

This is how it works: U.S. Marshals, along with federal, state and local partners set up at predetermined sites for a four-day surrender period from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.and wait for fugitives to surrender. All they need to do is bring identification and get fingerprinted.

Safe Surrender is not an amnesty program. But it does offer individuals who want to re-enter the mainstream of their communities a first step toward a second chance in the form of favorable consideration from the court.

The handling of criminal charges is decided by the prosecutor an d the judge, but favorable consideration is typically given in the spirit of the program, according to information on the program released by the U.S. Marshal's office.