‘Safe Surrender’ may help DC felons with active warrants move forward

WASHINGTON — For those living their lives looking over their shoulders, Operation Safe Surrender may be a chance to turn their lives around.

“There are now outstanding about 12,000 bench warrants,” said Judge Lynn Leibovitz, the presiding judge of the criminal division at D.C. Superior Court. “Letters have been sent to 9,500 people or so — and most of those people have nonviolent charges — because they missed court, failed to appear, or because they were on probation or parole and were alleged to have violated.”

Every Saturday for the rest of September, these people can show up to D.C. Superior Court and, once their status is confirmed, meet with a lawyer. Then, they can go before a judge to begin rectifying things. The program is in effect in D.C. for the third time since 2007.

Willie Jones, who now lives in Forestville, Maryland, said taking advantage of the program was the best decision he ever made.

“I was on everything that could change my mood: crack, heroin, alcohol,” said Jones, who court officials saw praying outside Bible Way Church the first time Operation Safe Surrender was run in 2007. Ultimately, Jones decided to go through the program.

“It’s a wonderful chance for you to get your life on track,” he said. “When you have a warrant, you’re stagnant, you can’t do nothing, you can’t get a job, you can rarely even drive because when the police pull you over, they run your name [and] you’re going in.”

Two of the previous times the program was held, 98 percent of those who did turn themselves in were able to go home, Liebovitz said.

“Really, in any case where somebody has an outstanding warrant and they walk in as opposed to waiting to be arrested, we do give that strong consideration because it shows you’re willing basically to own up to what’s happened,” Liebovitz said.

Back in 2007, Jones was one of those who got to go home — and that is why he can now be seen walking around D.C. Superior Court wearing a shirt that says, “The first step for a new beginning. The first step, for a second chance.”

“I do what normal people do now,” Jones said. “I work, I got a job, I got a stable place to live. It’s just turned my life around 100 percent.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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