Could repeat offenders bankrupt Tennessee's criminal justice system

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- There are numerous mug shots of 30-year-old Nikos Burgins. He's been in and out of jail since 1999. Burgins' rap sheet is the size of a small magazine. Like most troubled teens Burgins started small, driving without a license, weapons possession, and drug dealing. His punishment varied, but each time Burgins returned to a life of crime.

Keira Wyatt runs Connect Ministries, a non-profit dedicated to helping criminals and their victims. Wyatt says there are usually two factors at play in cases like Burgins. "They just totally choose this is the route I'm going to take, this is the type of life I want to live, and then some people have just not had the support, and it just keeps going."

Until the big one. After years of repeated arrests, Burgins now stands accused of a double rape and kidnapping. Police say Burgins, armed with a semi-automatic handgun, broke into the home of two women, and forced them to perform oral sex on him.

"I don't know where the end of it is," said Knox County District Attorney Randy Nichols. He's been a prosecutor more than 20 years. Before that, Nichols was a criminal court judge. He says repeat offenders like Burgins have left a costly mark on society. "We're up to about a billion dollars a year to trail 'em, nail 'em, and jail 'em."

A billion dollars right out of your pocket. "We've got some good citizens that can't afford their medicine, but we make sure that once you rob a good citizen that you've got enough lawyers," said Nichols.

At Connect Ministries, Wyatt is working to stem the tide, providing job training, counseling, and other services to ex-offenders. "When they re-enter into society, if they don't have a plan, you're looking at $15,000 at a minimum everytime they violate their parole or probation, and have to go back to prison," she said.

Wyatt says fixing the problem requires a long term commitment. "We're either going to pay for it with tax dollars, or we're going to pay for it with victims." Said Nichols, "we better get smarter, and we better do it quickly."

Nichols is promoting solutions of his own to this growing prolem. "We need to take a further look at your background, your drug and alcohol issues, those kind of things, and deal with it much earlier when you're a child, and hopefully get you turned around."

Said Wyatt, "if we do not help these folks coming out of prison, then we're going to have more victims."

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