JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – New Jersey law enforcement authorities have launched a “safe surrender” initiative that allows nonviolent offenders with arrest warrants to have their cases resolved quickly, often without jail time.
The four-day program started Wednesday morning and runs through Saturday at Evangelismos Greek Orthodox Church in Jersey City.
As CBS 2’s Hazel Sanchez reported, hundreds of people waited in long lines at the church to ask for forgiveness from the law.
“Your charges will not be dismissed, but you’ll have the opportunity to work with a judge and a public defender and a prosecutor to have your matter resolved quickly,” said New Jersey Attorney General’s office spokesman Neal Buccino.
“It’s a no-brainer,” said Sean Jackson of Jersey City.
As WCBS 880’s Levon Putney reported got in line at 2:45 a.m. on Wednesday to take care of his driving without a license warrant.
“Why not? Like I said, you can wait ’til they can come and get you or turn yourself in. You’re going to have to pay more than what you would have to pay to come in here,” Jackson told Putney.
He wasn’t the first in line.
“Over 700 people were lining up at 1 a.m.,” State Parole Board Chairman James Plousis said.
Truck driver Frank Rayford hoped to reduce thousands of dollars’ worth of fines he owed for unpaid traffic tickets. His license has been suspended for two years.
“I couldn’t afford to get it straightened out,” said Rayford, of Irvington. “So with the program hopefully it will help me get it back and I can help support my family more than what I’m doing now.”
Michelle Smart was hoping to deal with a warrant for drug possession.
“I made a change in my life. I’m doing something different now,” said Smart, of Jersey City. I’m in medical school, going on with my life. I have a granddaughter. I have something to live for today. That’s why I’m here to surrender.”
And by surrendering, many said they are finally free.
“I just feel like there’s a burden that has been lifted off of me and I just feel free,” said Veronica Fludd of Irvington. “When I come out this door, I’m going to click my heels and I’m going to say thank you Jesus, because it’s in back of me now.”
At the Jersey City Armory across the street, judges reduced fines and wipe the slate clean for the fugitives, mostly facing traffic and child support cases.
“Most of these people really want to be productive and this gives them an opportunity for that second chance,” said Plousis.
The program is open to U.S. citizens and legal residents wanted for nonviolent crimes or disorderly person offenses, including family matters and child support.
It’s not an amnesty program, but does offer favorable consideration from the court, often in the form of reduced fines or probation instead of jail time.
Officials expected as many as 4,000 fugitives will turn themselves in to have their cases adjudicated.
The event will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.
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