Project Safe Surrender

By Anne Marie Roderick 12-05-2011

Can’t get to court? Then go to church.

Clergy in a Brooklyn neighborhood teamed up with judges and law enforcement officials last week to help hundreds of people resolve outstanding warrants for minor offenses.

The program, called Project Safe Surrender, which began in 2010 and is modeled after the 2006 initiative Fugitive Safe Surrender, offers minor offenders an opportunity to settle their warrants in a safe environment without the risk of arrest. 

Brooklyn residents lined up outside of Mount Zion Baptist Church to clear warrants and summonses for offenses such as unlawful possession of alcohol under the age of 21, consumption of alcohol in public, loitering, littering, disorderly conduct, and other misdemeanors.

According to the Project Safe Surrender website, folks also could clear up citations for marijuana possession and smoking marijuana. The program recognizes that people with outstanding warrants are in constant risk of arrest and are therefore not likely to appear in court. Project Safe Surrender offers them a safe, local space to settle their legal woes. 

Last week, 2001 cases were resolved — many were dropped and others left offenders with minor fines. People who showed up to the event also received resources and assistance for services related to health, housing, employment, and education. 

While the program is not explicitly religious, church and clergy involvement shed light on the Christian spirit of the initiative. Project Safe Surrender is not quite Jubilee— offenders aren’t guaranteed amnesty — but there is a taste of the Resurrection.

An April NY Times article, quoted a pastor involved with the program: “The people who show up here know they have done something. By coming here, just like the thief on the cross, they can be vindicated.”  

Whether all offenders are in need of spiritual “vindication” (spitting on a public sidewalk is hardly cause for soul-searching repentance), the project is about reconciliation and new beginnings — a step in the right direction for our judicial system. 

Anne Marie Roderick is the editorial assistant at Sojourners.

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