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DC Safe Surrender-An Interview With Debra Rowe, Executive Director of Returning Citizens United

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[Audio Begins]

Cedric Hendricks: This is Cedric Hendricks for DC Public Safety.  With us today is Debra Rowe, Executive Director of Returning Citizens United.  She’s here today to talk with us about DC Safe Surrender.  Miss Rowe, why is it important for you to be here today to speak about DC Safe Surrender?  What does it mean for you?

Debra Rowe:  Well, first of all it’s important to me because Returning Citizens United is an advocacy and support services program for those pre and post-incarcerated, but mostly, those who have returned home.  And it’s very important because we, Returning Citizens United, we work with them to move forward.  And this program is critical because a lot of people can’t move forward because they have outstanding warrants or they’re not sure if they have warrants.  So that’s why I think this is very important.

Cedric Hendricks:  And you mentioned to me that you’ve had some experience helping people with outstanding warrants come in, surrender and clear those matters up.  How has that unfolded?

Debra Rowe:  Yes, myself and my partner, my colleague and my partner, Yango Sawer, we have returning citizens come year around and directly to us and turn theirself in because the word is out that you can go to Miss Rowe or you need to call Yango Sawyer.  And what we do, they call us, they tell us what the situation is and we escort them down to the courthouse and downstairs and we inform the person at the desk that this person believes they have a warrant.  They look them up in the system.  They say yes, you do.  And we have had a couple of guys get down there and they didn’t have one.  But just like Safe Surrender, your dignity is intact.  You know, there’s no grabbing you, throwing you against the wall, you know, handcuffing you and all that.  Our experience has been they just tell them kindly to have a seat.  They process a little paperwork and then they say yes, you have it and they call one of the marshals out after they do some processing.  And they say can you walk them back for them to go on and deal with it.  And we’ve had calls or follow up with the attorneys to ask will we write a letter on their behalf because they’re going before the judge and they may be released.  The situation’s very dependent on the person and what the charges are.  But it is very critical for Returning Citizens to move forward.  And if you think you have an outstanding warrant, CSOSA and the Safe Surrender program is very important and can help you to just move on.

Cedric Hendricks:  Now back in 2007 when this took place the first time, there were 530 individuals that turned themselves in and in fact, 98 percent of them walked out that very same day and were able to start putting their lives back together.  And one of the other important things was that at that site that was at Bible Way Church there were resource and service providers on site.  So if an individual needed to make a connection for treatment or for employment,

Debra Rowe:  Child support.

Cedric Hendricks:  all of that, APRA was there, DOES was there and we’re looking to have those same kind of providers there today.  Now last time it was at a church.  This time it’s at a courthouse.  Does that make any difference?

Debra Rowe:  I think it makes a big difference because you’re right there.  It’s like one stop.  You’re right there.  You’re at the court.  I’ve read that there’s going to be attorneys available to assist you.  I mean you can’t get any better than that.  It’s one stop.

Cedric Hendricks: And that’s a good point.  The Public Defender Service which was a great partner the last time, is certainly going to be there the day so that anybody who is going to then appear before a judge or a United States parole commissioner, will have the opportunity to have representation to assist them.

Debra Rowe:  That’s right, yes.

Cedric Hendricks:  Alright, well we just want to close by having you reiterate the value of this if you would.

Debra Rowe:  Yes, it’s very valuable because when you come home, you come home and sometimes we slip and we make mistakes.  But that doesn’t mean to just go all the way down into a pit.  Just go ahead and face it.  Come out if you know you have a warrant, come out and let us assist you to just get it taken care of and move forward with your life.  And that’s the step right there.  That’s a step in moving forward, that you come down and you surrender.  And you’re surrendering safely.  You’re going to be in good hands.

Cedric Hendricks:  We’ve been talking with Debra Rowe, the Executive Director of Returning Citizens United about DC Safe Surrender.  Thank you Miss Rowe.

Debra Rowe:  Thank you.

[Audio Ends]