When it comes to Central California’s trashiest highways, roads in Kern County appear to take the prize.
"Some areas do have higher concentrations of litter than others unfortunately,” said José Camarena with the California Department of Transportation. “Other areas are actively involved in reducing some of that litter."
Camarena says Caltrans is doing all it can to reduce litter on Kern highways, but it's working with slim resources. It uses only one sweeper to clean highways from Lerdo Highway down to the Grapevine. There are normally three sweepers to take care of our area, but the other two need repairs.
So, what happened to inmate crews that used to pick up trash along the highways?
“We were receiving a lot of help here locally from local inmates,” he said. “That program was done away with about a year ago.”
Caltrans had a contract with the Shafter Community Correctional facility since 1995, but it ended when the prison shut down last November. Shafter is currently negotiating a deal to bring Los Angeles County inmates to the empty Shafter prison.
“It is a very efficient and affordable way to keep the litter picked up on the highways,” said John Guinn, Shafter City Manager. “It gives the inmates something to do, and it's a tremendous benefit for Kern County and that our freeways and highways and byways are looking much better.”
Sheriff Donny Youngblood says the county did away with its inmate cleanup crews in the late 1980s. He says the program is too expensive and unsafe.
"Yes, they're picking up trash, and yes, we're keeping them busy, but we don't have those types of inmates to do that with anymore,” Youngblood said. “We don't have the money to have officers out there guarding serious felons in our community while they pick up trash."
He says it would cost $1.5 million for about 15 deputies to guard the inmate crews. The county would have to purchase a truck for each deputy to carry the crews. Youngblood says the county does use some inmates as part of a work-release program to do some trash pickup.