Community leaders around Nashville are pushing back against a program designed to help clear a backlog of outstanding warrants.
Next week, Nashville's District Attorney's office, the criminal court clerk and several general session judges are hosting a two-day Safe Surrender program.
The concept is for people with outstanding warrants to show up to a local church and turn themselves in to receive "favorable consideration."
But community leaders from Nashville's Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship and several criminal justice organizations seek further clarification on the meaning of favorable considerations before advocating for the program.
Davie Tucker, a pastor of Beech Creek Missionary Baptist Church, said when asked to advocate for the program, he pushed for them to offer a real incentive to show up.
Tucker suggested on-the-spot expungements or suspension of all fines and fees for anyone that showed up.
"It needs to be something different than what you deal with every day," Tucker said. "The problem is they are unwilling to put on paper what special consideration means."
Addressing the underlying issues
The DA's office said there are about 33,000 outstanding warrants in Nashville. The vast majority of them are tied to nonviolent offenses like driving without a license and failure to appear in court.
In 2018, Nashville stopped taking away licenses from people who couldn't afford their court fines and fees in an attempt to reduce the amount of arrests made for driving without a license. A study conducted by Metro Nashville in 2020 found judges in recent years have stopped issuing warrants for people whose only offense is nonpayment.
The DA's office estimated 11,000 warrants of the 33,000 outstanding are for failure to appear.
Erica Perry, the executive director with Nashville Community Bail Fund, said the program fails to address the underlying issue of why there are so many outstanding warrants in the first place.
"We don't even know how many of them expired and shouldn't be enforced anyway," Perry said. "The warrants are a failure of the police and our criminal legal system."
Nashville has held similar Safe Surrender programs before
Chris Jackson, a pastor at Pleasant Green Baptist Church, said community leaders are being asked to put their reputations on the line for a program that lacks real incentives.
"It needs to be a win-win scenario, but right now, it seems like a win and partial win," Jackson said.
Nashville has held similar Safe Surrender programs in 2005 and 2015. During the first event, 561 people turned themselves in, but in 2015 the number fell to 86.
Dawn Deaner, the former Davidson County chief public defender and now executive director of the Choosing Justice Initiative, said the program lost support throughout the years as the climate around criminal justice and community backing dwindled.
"The program has good intentions," Deaner said. "But they aren't doing anything that a good lawyer can't help someone do."
The program also comes as Nashville moves its focus to the 2022 election cycle, where the district attorney, criminal court clerk and several judges are up for reelection.
Adam Friedman is The Tennessean’s evening reporter covering breaking news, crime, cops and a little bit of everything else. If you have a news tip, he wants it. Email him at email@example.com or call him at 731-431-8517.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Community leaders push back against Nashville's Safe Surrender program