Inmate litter cleanup returns to Chester County

An old concept for litter control has come back to Chester County.

The county recently resumed its inmate litter detail, through which several inmates from the Chester County Detention Center go out a few days a week and pick up trash along county roadways.

“We’ve been planning for this since April of last year,” County Supervisor Shane Stuart said. “It’s only recently we’ve able to act on it.”

The county once maintained an inmate litter detail, but it ended during a longstanding dispute between then-County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey, whom Stuart unseated in the 2014 election, and Sheriff Alex Underwood. Stuart said he began looking into restarting the program after residents voiced concern last year about trash on the county’s roadways.

“The sheriff’s always been very open and ready to work,” Stuart said, adding that until now, the county relied more on the state’s Adopt-A-Highway program for litter control. “We do have litter control employees. They’ve been tasked with other things that have to do with litter, but not trash collection on the side of the road.”

Inmates from the county jail were picking up trash on S.C. 9 late last week.

The litter detail usually consists of five to 10 inmates who work several hours a day, two or three days a week, said Chief Deputy Robert Sprouse, spokesman for the Chester County Sheriff’s Office. They are all nonviolent offenders who already have been sentenced and are considered low-risk for escape. Some state inmates serving time in the Chester County jail also participate.

“We normally have jobs for them here” at the jail, Sprouse said. “If they don’t have a particular job they’re doing that day, we can send them out on that litter crew.”

The crew scours roadways all over the county picking up trash, Sprouse said, and drivers can expect to see inmates out more frequently as the weather gets warmer. That also coincides with when the amount of litter on roadways typically spikes.

“If officers ride by and see an area that’s littered, we’ll let the detention center know,” he said, “and that’ll be one of the target areas we’ll try to hit as soon as possible.”

The inmates are searched before they go out to a work site and again before returning to make sure they don’t pick up banned items and bring them into the jail, Sprouse said. Any contraband or personal items found on the roadside must be turned over to the supervising detention officer.

Last week, an inmate found a wallet with a driver’s license, credit cards and cash that officers were able to return to the owner, Sprouse said.

The county will be track the crew’s efforts to stay on top of the cost of the program, Stuart said. He expects one of the biggest benefits will be in economic development.

“If you come into this county and you’re trying to locate a new business here, we want it as inviting and pleasing as possible,” he said. “We don’t want you seeing a bunch of garbage on the side of the road, because that sends a negative message right off the bat.”

The other message Stuart wants to drive home is that the inmate litter detail is only part of the county’s plan to combat a big problem, and that it’s not a “catch-all” for keeping roadways free of garbage.

“It’s not the sheriff’s office’s responsibility,” he said. “It’s not the county’s responsibility, it’s not the city’s and it’s not the state’s responsibility. It is everyone’s responsibility.

“The biggest thing is, if you see it, pick it up.”

Teddy Kulmala: 803-329-4082, @teddy_kulmala