- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A D.C. church is opening it doors tomorrow to give nonviolent offenders an opportunity to surrender to police as part of a federal program to cut the number of arrest warrants and help criminals come clean.

Bible Way Church in Northwest will host the Fugitive Safe Surrender program through Saturday to give offenders a chance to turn themselves in to authorities in a comfortable environment, program administrators say.

“It reduces the number of warrants and reduces tension with officers” in search of fugitives, said Leonard Sipes, spokesman for the D.C. Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency. “It’s a way of integrating hundreds of offenders back into mainstream society.”

Mr. Sipes said about 100 volunteers will be on hand to process offenders and offer counseling and adjudication services.

The program, run by the U.S. Marshals Service, has drawn thousands of offenders in a half dozen cities across the country over the past two years, Mr. Sipes said.

The last Safe Surrender program — in July, in Akron, Ohio — brought in 1,600 offenders over four days, about 95 percent of whom Mr. Sipes said were able to go home the same day.

Mr. Sipes, a former Maryland state trooper, said the program is more effective than having law-enforcement officers serve warrants because fugitives often run from the officers out of fear and the situation sometimes become hostile.

Mr. Sipes said that at focus groups from previous Safe Surrender programs, many offenders said they were more comfortable giving themselves up to religious leaders.

Mr. Sipes also said the program helps many offenders get back to normal life. He said those who have participated in the program said they had avoided activities such as work or drug-treatment programs because they feared their warrants would be discovered.

Keith Campbell of Southeast, who is on parole in the District for missing a court date, said he will volunteer at the program. Though Campbell never used the program, he said, it is simpler than conventional surrender.

“Turning myself in was such an arduous process having to go to central booking, then to court and everything,” Campbell said. “This program is a positive thing because everything is right there in the church.”

The program runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day and includes free day care. Offenders are encouraged to surrender, but program administrators remind them that Fugitive Safe Surrender does not grant amnesty.

Additional information about the program is available at www.dcsafesurrender.org or by calling 202/585-7233.

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