Road crews picking up cigarette butts, plastic bags and other trash along Beaufort County highways as part of court-ordered community service will be required soon to wear old-fashioned, black-and-white striped jail garb.
That's an order from the man in charge of the program, county jail director Phil Foot. Supervision of the labor crews was transferred from the county Public Works Department to the Detention Center by a March 14 vote of County Council.
"My philosophy is that if they have to do the program, people will know they're serving with me," Foot said. "Now, they'll be seen in uniforms rather than civilian clothes. They'll be highly visible."
The community service crews also will be required to wear orange vests over their jail uniforms.
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For 15 years, some nonviolent offenders have been ordered by the courts to pick up trash along county roads. The crews usually include those sentenced to short sentences or weekends in jail for offenses such as driving under the influence, according to Foot.
The types of offenders allowed to participate will not change, but they will be charged a $15 fee to enter the program, which will go into the county's general fund, and $5 a day to cover the cost of supervisors and transportation. The program used to be free to participants.
Typically, crews of eight to 15 offenders pick up litter each weekend, Foot said.
"A correction officer will be supervising them, but they're not a danger to the community," Foot said. "We're happy to get some work out of them and clean up the highways, but I don't want them to be confused with the Adopt-A-Highway program volunteers or get credit for that work."
Data from the Public Works Department suggest offenders have played a major role in reducing the amount of debris strewn about the county.
In 2009, program participants picked up about 116 tons of trash, according to the department.
Although 2010 figures were not available, Carol Murphy, the county's recycling coordinator, said they would be similar to the 2009 numbers.
"They have been invaluable to our citizens and our county," Murphy said. "We've found that many of these folks are hard-working, decent people who are happy to have an alternative to paying large fines or having jail time. We hope it will be as successful under the Detention Center as it has been in the past."
Other supporters of the measure say the sight of offenders in striped jumpsuits would leave a lasting impression on young people.
County administrator Gary Kubic said he supports the program for many reasons, the biggest one being deterrence.
"I think it causes reflection," he said. "I like the associated fee, but it's not my first priority. There is some humility involved. I hope it will cause some to think before they act."
If the uniforms don't work or residents don't like them, Kubic said officials can make changes.
But he isn't expecting complaints.
"I think our community wants to see it happen," he said.