Second Year for Fugitive Safe Surrender Gives Second Chances

by Kimberly Sandoval, AmeriCorps VISTA

From the time Russ Huff, a 2100 Lakeside Men’s Shelter volunteer and former resident, was issued a warrant in 2008, he could not find a job to support himself or his family and ended up losing his home that same year. Huff was one of 20,000 fugitives at large in Cuyahoga County running from the law.

Michael Moguel, Operations Manager at Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry’s 2100 Lakeside Men’s Shelter, encouraged Huff to attend Fugitive Safe Surrender (FSS) and address his outstanding warrant. The program allows individuals who are wanted for non-violent felony or misdemeanor crimes and have no history of violence to voluntarily surrender to the law. This is the second time FSS has occurred in Cleveland and it ran from September 22-25.

 “FSS is a program that has created an avenue for people, like Huff, with warrants to be encouraged to safely take a big step toward personal responsibility, making amends, and becoming productive citizens,” said Moguel.

While only a small percentage of men at 2100 Lakeside Men’s Shelter have an outstanding warrant, for those that do, it is an insurmountable barrier to self-sufficiency. “The warrant largely restricts them from getting legitimate work, housing, or linkage to many social services and therefore increases their length of stay at the shelter,” said Moguel.

Those who turned themselves in had an opportunity to meet with sheriff staff, attorneys, court clerks, and judges and often received favorable consideration for surrendering. “FSS served the best interest of individuals involved without compromising the integrity of the legal process,” said Charles See, Executive Director of LMM’s Community Re-Entry.

 Community Re-Entry staff worked very closely with U.S. Marshall Peter Elliot during the development of the first FSS and were cosponsors of the second FSS where 7,431 fugitives turned themselves in.  Many individuals who participated in FSS will be eligible to participate in programs Community Re-Entry offers.

“Regardless of status, all participants were treated with dignity and compassion,” said See. Participants often received reduced fines and sentences, reinstated driver’s licenses, and better employment prospects for most of the low-level offenders who had been hiding from law enforcement for months or years.

 “With my warrant gone, I feel a great burden has been lifted and now, I have a chance to move one step forward in the right direction,” said Huff.

 Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Street Chronicle published April 2011 Cleveland, Ohio