By David Cruz
It looked to the casual observer like some sort of giveaway. People lined up around the block at the Jersey City Armory, but there were no goodie bags at the end of this line. What they got was a part of their lives back. Today, Attorney General John Hoffman said last week’s Fugitive Safe Surrender program exceeded expectations.
“I’m so proud to say that last week, not only did we break records, but we changed lives,” Hoffman said at a morning press conference.
Over the course of four days last week, Hoffman says 4,587 individuals turned themselves in to face the music on non-violent offenses and clear their records. Most — 63 percent — had traffic warrants and another third faced misdemeanor criminal warrants. This was the fourth time the state has offered the program and Hoffman says it’s gotten more than 18,000 people back on track.
“That’s 18,000 people that have taken responsibility and accountability for their actions, who have paid reasonable fines and have moved on with their lives in a positive and a constructive manner,” he added.
Two of those individuals were at today’s press conference. Manny Maurissette of Jersey City is a chef. He said it’s been tough getting to jobs without a license, which he lost because of outstanding traffic violations.
“In my younger years, I’ve accumulated a lot of traffic violations, some of which I’m not too proud of, very expensive,” he said. “With this program, which was literally a spur of the moment when I found out, was more of a godsend than anything else. Everyone was in one place where I could deliver and get off my back every last ticket or traffic violation that I accumulated.”
Eddie Restrepo is literally getting his life together. An Iraq War vet and father of two, he says he was homeless for a period and let his outstanding tickets pile up. He came to the program reluctantly and at the insistence of his new boss.
“I was scared I was going to walk in one door and get arrested through the other, but after a long process I got in and the judge helped me out a lot,” he said. “I had fines from the thousands and they reduced them all into the hundreds. Because of that I feel more at ease and I feel that I’m not always running around, trying to hide from the cops.”
Hoffman says the program not only got fugitives to turn themselves in and correct the course of their lives, but it also brought in some $40,000 in municipal and Superior Court income, which Hoffman says made life a little easier for defendants and for the courts, which have their dockets full of thousands of much more serious crimes.