The United States Marshals Service is inviting those with outstanding warrants to surrender in a non-threatening environment: church. A program in Nashville, called Fugitive Safe Surrender, is the fifth effort of its kind by the Marshals Service, which works with local police officers, churches, public defenders and judges. The program helps ease court backlogs and gives nonviolent fugitives a chance to resolve their court problems in a neutral setting. Some 1.2 million people nationwide are considered fugitives because of outstanding warrants. About half are for nonviolent crimes, and those are the targets of the program.
Since August 2005, about 4,000 people have surrendered during such programs, in Phoenix, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Akron, Ohio, and Nashville. In Nashville, where there are about 38,000 outstanding warrants in the county courts, more than 550 people turned themselves in from Wednesday to Saturday, the last day they could do so. The program transplants court apparatus into the safe confines of a church. Fugitives with lesser crimes – traffic violations or minor drug offenses, for example – work out a plea deal with public defenders and prosecutors, then go before a judge.