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It sure beat going to jail

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By all accounts, the Fugitive Safe Surrender program held last week in Hudson County warrants the term “success.”

Fugitive Safe Surrender afforded nonviolent offenders with outstanding New Jersey warrants the chance to turn themselves in to authorities and, in return, likely receive “favorable consideration” from the justice system.

The total head count of those who surrendered was not available at press time, but as of Friday, the penultimate day of the four-day program, a reported 2,951 fugitives had shown up.

Authorities were said to be expecting at least 1,000 additional surrenders by the project’s conclusion last Saturday afternoon. T

he official final tally was to be announced Tuesday morning by N.J. Attorney General John J. Hoffman.

Last week’s was the fifth Safe Surrender to be held in the state. At the previous ones — in Camden (2008), Newark (2009), Somerset/ New Brunswick (2010) and Atlantic City (2012) — a total of 13,276 people with outstanding warrants turned themselves in.

In Hudson, the window of opportunity was open from Wednesday to Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. During those hours, persons wanted by New Jersey jurisdictions for nonviolent offenses reported to Evangelismos Greek Orthodox Church on Montgomery St.

From there, they were escorted across the street to the Jersey City Armory, which had been converted into a temporary temple of justice with drapery partitions delineating nearly a score of individual “courtrooms.”

Superior Court and Municipal Court judges adjudicated the cases, and public defenders and prosecutors were present.

According to one television report, people began lining up outside the church in the wee hours Wednesday.

By midday, the line stretched down the block and around the corner — a scenario repeated each of the four days.

When the Hudson program was announced last month, Hoffman emphasized that it was not an offer of amnesty. However, participants would “receive favorable consideration . . . [which] typically results in significantly reduced fines and/ or probation requirements instead of incarceration.”

Only individuals with nonviolent-offense warrants from state or local jurisdictions in New Jersey were eligible, and participation also was limited to U.S. citizens and legal residents.

On Friday, Hoffman noted that, in Jersey City, “nearly 3,000 people decided to stop looking over their shoulders and change their lives,” availing themselves of “the best deal around.”

He called Fugitive Safe Surrender an “incredible opportunity to stop running from the law and turn your life around.”

–Karen Zautyk

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