A new program by the Columbia County Sheriff's Office puts prisoners to work collecting litter.
Several inmates at the Columbia County Detention Center are voluntarily participating in a trash patrol program instituted by Sheriff Clay Whittle to pick up refuse along county highways and roads.
"That's a sight to behold," Whittle said of the inmates, who can be seen any given day dressed in bright orange uniforms plucking litter out of ditches.
"We wanted to do something with our inmates and have them earn some of their keep, so to speak, instead of just sitting around the detention center here and not performing any useful function."
Two work crews of eight prisoners each work eight hours a day, weather permitting, five days a week collecting trash. On an average day, the crews can cover both sides of a 4-mile stretch of highway.
"I'll lead them down a road that is really dirty with trash and have them pick it up and bag it," said Columbia County sheriff's Deputy Anthony D. Streetman, who supervises one of the inmate details. "Then Columbia County Roads and Bridges will send a big dump truck to pick up the trash."
Whittle instituted the program in September. Before that, he said it had been decades since the sheriff's office last used inmates for road work.
"We've always used inmate work details," he said. "They work everywhere there is - maintenance, cleanup, supplies, cooking staff - and we saw the need to help the county."
Whittle said the idea came to him while sitting in a county Board of Commissioners meeting, listening to commissioners discuss hiring a company for road cleanup. He said he saw it as an opportunity to give prisoners a useful activity while saving the county money.
Based on minimum wage and each man working a 40-hour week, Whittle figures the inmate detail is saving the county about $200,000 a year in labor costs.
"Our purpose is to try and be efficient and save money wherever we can," he said. "I'm a taxpayer in Columbia County also, so I like those numbers.
"I get phone calls on daily basis with people saying, 'Man, that is great. I'm glad to see them out there working and paying back something to the county instead of just sitting in there and watching TV and getting fed."'
The sheriff said the impact of the program extends beyond reducing the amount of trash on roads and saving taxpayer money. He said it's also good for the inmates' mindsets.
"The average person with a conscious wants to be productive, and they feel productive," he said. "They truly are serving their debt to society."
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