Effort underway to reduce number of criminals on St. Joseph County streets

Published: Sep. 9, 2020 at 6:03 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - An aggressive effort to reduce the number of criminals on the streets in St. Joseph County will get underway this week.

In this case, the “criminals” have done their time and kept their noses clean.

The goal is not to take them off the streets, but to take away or expunge their past criminal convictions.

“Let’s do the right thing for the community. Let’s do the right thing to help more people become employed, be able to help more people take care of their families, to help people put the past behind them,” St. Joseph County Magistrate Andre Gammage told 16 News Now.

It’s not uncommon for an individual to file the paperwork needed to expunge their past criminal convictions.

It’s perhaps unprecedented to have the county prosecutor offer to do it for them—for free.

“I’m surprisingly excited about this because this is not traditionally what a prosecutor does,” said Prosecutor Kenneth Cotter. “This is not soft on crime, this is smart.”

It’s the same reason the prosecutor is now offering to work to waive fees for drivers with suspended licenses who can’t afford to get those licenses reinstated.

“If you don’t have a license you’re probably still going to drive but now you’re not going to have insurance. If you commit a traffic violation you may want to run from the police because you know, you’re suspended. And so it makes our whole community unsafe.” Cotter said there are more than 300,000 Hoosiers who have suspended licenses.

The St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office along with the county Judiciary will sponsor the first of at least four community clinics on Sept. 11 at 5 p.m. at Sweet Home Church on Taylor Street.

Up to eight clinics will be held if demand warrants.

“I think we’ve come outside the box a bit and I think that some of the things that have been going on across this land have allowed some of us to think more broadly about things that we can and we should do,” said Magistrate Gammage, who hoped the extraordinary campaign would help restore trust in the local judicial system. “We certainly hope that across the board people find respect and find equality and find at least we’re on the road to getting better.”

The Fresh Start Friday initiative already has its first client.

“This can make help a person turn around and say, you know what, I’m glad I continued to do the right thing and somebody see it. Now I’m no longer a felon. I’m just a citizen of South Bend,” said Isaac Hunt, GVI/ SAVE Liaison, who hopes to have his record wiped clean.

Copyright 2020 WNDU. All rights reserved.