More than 200 people got a fresh start here last week.
All they had to do was walk into First Presbyterian Church in Youngstown to start the process of clearing up warrants for their arrest that grew out of misdemeanor charges or failure to appear in court on traffic charges or failure to pay fines.
Living with an outstanding warrant not only preys on a person’s nerves, it hinders daily life.
Being stopped for a minor traffic violation carries more than a possible ticket, it carries the likelihood of going directly to jail.
We have been strong supporters of the Fugitive Safe Surrender program that Ohio Attorney Gen. Mike DeWine brought to Trumbull and Columbiana counties in July and to Mahoning County last week.
While thousands of people missed a golden opportunity to make peace with the justice system, the hundreds who did take advantage of the program are better off today.
The 212 people who walked through the doors cleared 240 warrants. Some took care of outstanding fines even before warrants were issued, saving everyone time and trouble. And while the program is designed primarily for people with misdemeanor warrants for nonviolent crimes, seven people with felony warrants turned themselves in.
The misdemeanants were able to walk out of the church with a weight lifted from their shoulders. That’s what safe surrender is designed to do. Those facing felony charges were taken into custody pending further court action. That, too, is what the program is designed to do.
It is not a “get out of jail free” card; it is a way of taking responsibility and avoiding more serious repercussions in the future.
A well oiled machine
There is nothing haphazard about these events. Agents from the attorney general’s office were assisted by Mahoning County deputy sheriffs and officers with the Youngstown, Austintown, Boardman, Canfield and Sebring police departments. Clerks, judges or magistrates from Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, the county courts and Youngstown Municipal Court were on duty. The Mahoning County Bar Association provided volunteer defense lawyers. Mental health professionals were there to help people with problems related to mental illness or alcohol or drug abuse. And the Bureau of Motor Vehicles had a representative on hand to help restore driving privileges when possible.
The effort involved hundreds of volunteer hours. The benefactors are not only those people who have been removed from the warrant roles, but every police officer. They know that a routine encounter with someone facing arrest for an outstanding warrant can turn violent and even deadly in an instant.
More needs to be done to clear those thousands of remaining warrants, but everyone involved in last week’s effort can take pride in their success.