MICAH Brings Safe Surrender to Milwaukee's 53206

Posted by: Gordon on 7/17/2015

Fugitive Safe Surrender in Philly

The Safe Surrender program, which provides nonviolent offenders a starting point toward getting a second chance, has operated in many cities including Philadelphia, above, where people lined up to turn themselves in. (photo courtesy U.S. Marshals)

A year’s worth of advocacy to provide greater opportunities and investment in Milwaukee’s most marginalized Zip Code 53206 is bearing fruit for MICAH.

This month the organization is launching Safe Surrender in 53206, coordinating area churches, law enforcement agencies, the county court system and other partners in its 53206 Task Force.

"There are now tens of thousands of active warrants for citizens in Milwaukee County," says Pastor Darius Butler, a leader of the MICAH Clergy Caucus whose Tabernacle Community Baptist Church is expected to be a site of the Safe Surrender program.

"Those range from traffic violations and parking tickets to some pretty significant criminal offenses," Butler says. "What we see as one of the outcomes and byproducts of this initiative is bringing those citizens in from the shadows so that they can actually be engaged in civic life in ways that are healthy for communities."

The theological value of Jubilee is embedded in this program, Butler notes: "Those who are held to certain debts and charges should be given an opportunity for release and reprieve, so they are not caught permanently in vicious cycles or social structures that cannot affirm their own being and cannot secure their flourishing."

The program brings together community and government partners to make churches in the community official courtrooms. Anyone wanted for a Milwaukee county non-violent felony or misdemeanor crimes can turn themselves in on courtroom days in the selected churches.

This will reduce the risk of violence to police and bystanders that often results from arresting those wanted on warrants. The courts will be empowered to work with neighborhood residents who turn themselves in to provide alternatives to prison for the non-violent offenders.

53206 is a community with a high concentration of formerly incarcerated people and concentrated poverty. Last year, MICAH developed a youth  organizing and leadership program for area students. Safe Surrender emerged as another tool for community change.

“This is a common-sense, spiritual way of letting people know that we aren’t just about punishment, about retribution,” Rev. Willie Brisco, president of MICAH, told Wisconsin Public Radio last month. “We’re about restoration and recovery and that one crime or mistake should not impact your life forever.”

Safe Surrender is a national program created by Congress several years ago and run by the federal U.S. Marshals Service. in about 20 other cities.

The 53206 Safe Surrender project is funded in part by the Advancing A Healthier Wisconsin Endowment of the Medical College of Wisconsin.

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