Fugitives Turn Themselves in...To God?

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It's looking like Tennessee's first-ever fugitives safe surrender. On its first day, well over 100 people with outstanding warrants turned themselves in to designated churches across the state. But why did they turn themselves in? Did they expect God to cut them some slack for their transgressions? Why does the government need special programs to get people who want to surrender to do so?

The idea is simple: if you have an outstanding warrant against you--that is, if you're essentially on the run for some minor crime or parole violation, and you run the risk of getting picked up during even the slightest run-in with the cops, like a traffic stop--and if you're tired of looking over your shoulder, you can turn your self in. During this special 4-day program, you report to a local church, where the courts have set up judges, lawyers, marshalls...all the trappings of the legal system, with everything but the courtroom. And, because this is a special thing, and you're cooperating by turning yourself in, you get a little slack cut for yourself.

In the 4 days Tennessee offered this special deal, over 400 fugitives turned themselves in. Most were tired of running, and many received light sentences and/or were released with orders to show up later for their trial date.

The benefits for the state are double: they clear their books a bit, and avoid possible confrontations at traffic stops and other times, when a person under warrant may panic and become violent. The benefits for the wanted men are this: they perhaps get some slack in return for turning themselves in, they get to stop running, and they can take care of things in a place where they feel safe...a church.

But here's the question. Why churches? As many as 80% of the participants in the program said that they decided to turn themselves in only because it was in a church. Did they think that they were safer in a church...less likely to have the cops pull their weapons and blow their heads off? (Probably...talk about bad publicity...but wouldn't it be better to make police departments and courthouses less scary and safer instead?) Did they think that a church would be more merciful and forgiving? (If so, they haven't been reading their history books. Besides, the churches just donated the space...they had no influence on the legal proceedings.)

In a country that is supposed to keep church and state separate, why is it easier to make a quick pact with religion than to make the government itself less threatening in the first place? How many mosques and temples were part of this deal? How many covens? Where do the atheist criminals go to get their special dose of friendly justice?

Though the program may work, the fact that it works better than the regular system should make us wonder about that regular system, and how it could stand to be improved.

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