Knox Co. courts clogged with offenders who keep returning

Knox Co. courts clogged with offenders who keep returning

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By HANA KIM
Good Morning Tennessee Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- Every week, hundreds of cases make it on the dockets of the Knox County courts, but they often involve the same offenders.

"We are second in the state now in caseload per prosecutor,"says District Attorney General Randy Nichols.

One factor adding to the case load and jail overcrowding is the issue of recidivism, a tendency to relapse into criminal behavior.

"One of the biggest problems we have is recidivism. We have a lot of people who keep coming back into the system," says attorney Charles Burks.

For many people, jail has become a revolving door. 

For example in 2006, more than 2,800 inmates were booked two or more times and 395 inmates were put back in cells four times or more.

"Apparently, people aren't afraid of jails anymore. They've been there, done that," Nichols says.

The DA also says the courts have to take a different approach to break this cycle. "If they're going to lay there and watch TV and play cards, maybe it's not a deterrent like we thought."

In summer 2007, an independent consultant was brought in to study Knox County's jails. The findings showed the majority of the jail population are non-violent offenders and many have drug problems.

The study highly recommended rehabilitation, instead of just punishment. The consultant recommended using more work release programs and electronic monitoring.

The report also said Knox County needs to invest in more drug rehabilitation centers.

Currently, the county's jail population is below the federally mandated cap. Still, the issue is something that won't go away since the jail population continues to grow.

The latest data reveals the jail population grew more than 60 percent from 2000 to 2007. Plus, it's a very expensive growth. It costs taxpayers $70 a day to house a single inmate.

Many officials say the jail overcrowding issue is complicated because it deals with the entire criminal justice system, not just the courts.

However, most officials are sure the solution is not to build more jail cells.

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