Kern County inmate crew tackles 28 tons of trash

Kern County inmate crew tackles 28 tons of trash
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — A new project in the Kern County Sheriff's Office takes aim at two problems: The Community Work Crew is cleaning up some of the worst illegal dumping incidents, and, at the same time, helping with impacts from state prison realignment.

The state changes kicked in last October and have left local jails with more inmates who now serve longer sentences. To deal with that, Sheriff Donny Youngblood has created a special unit that has so far picked up about 28 tons of trash.

On Tuesday, the Sheriff's Community Work Crew cleared out an area just north of Edison Highway where neighbors had complained about junk and debris piled around several travel trailers where people were apparently "squatting" just off the county access road.

An Eyewitness News camera rolled as the inmate crew raked up trash and helped load three, big roll-off dumpster bins. Lt. Greg Gonzales said that's the kind of situation where the new program can fill a real need.

"Because we can take a crew of eight, and knock it out with eight men, versus some community clean-up groups doing it, it takes them a little bit longer," Gonzales said. "So, we're targeting the heavier areas, with more people."

Those people are additional inmates who are in custody at the Lerdo Jail, and spending more time there thanks to prison realignment.

"Twenty percent of our inmates are serving between two and five years. So, instead of a lot of them doing idle time and spinning their wheels, we're picking out different inmates every day," Gonzales said. "And we're bringing out crews to pick up trash."

He said there's a reason different inmates are picked from day to day for the work crews in the community. If inmates know ahead of time they're going out, "contraband" could be left out for them and get brought back into the jail.

The first week of February, the crew was in the Shafter area. They cleaned up about 11 tons of debris, including tires and even a boat. Gonzales said the area near Beech Avenue had become a problem for farmers, with the illegally dumped junk ending up in fields and clogging irrigation sumps.

In general, the areas to be cleaned up are identified by the Kern County Waste Management Department or Code Compliance.

Sometimes problem areas have been spotted by sheriff deputies on patrol.

"We cleaned up an area in east Bakersfield on Columbus and Manor," Gonzales said. "There were shopping carts."

The crew is going into the community several days a week, and the rest of the time they're kept busy around sheriff facilities.

"Two or three days they're here at the (Lerdo Jail) facility and they're doing stuff," Gonzales explained. "Or, helping out at other county buildings, moving furniture and cleaning small areas."

The officer said some days, inmates picked for the crew go to classes at the Bakersfield Adult School.

"That way they learn some skills with weed-eaters, lawn mowers, and beautification projects here at the facility," he said.

The cost for the program is about $100,000 a year, Gonzales said. That's the cost for the detention deputy's salary. He said the crew needs a van, but the department had that equipment.

They're hearing positive comments about the Community Work Crew's efforts.

"The feedback's been pretty good," Gonzales said. "The businesses that have been around the surrounding areas we've cleaned up, they're very, very happy and grateful."

The officer said citizens can report areas they'd like to see get cleaned up, and the best way to do that is by calling Kern County Code Compliance. That number is (661) 862-8603.

"There's so much trash in the county," Gonzales said. "The sheriff just wants to do his part to clean it up through the use of inmates if we can."