More parolees will be cleaning up Fresno County highways over the next three years through a new Caltrans agreement with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The statewide program has been in place since 2009, but Fresno County joined in officially on July 17.
Over the past two months, parolees have cleaned up 1,500 cubic yards of litter, said Trent Manning, Caltrans litter abatement program manager.
Clean-up efforts will be in the Fresno metropolitan area along highways 168, 99, 41 and 180, said Gloria Rodriguez, a Caltrans spokeswoman.
Over a three-day period this month, 807 bags of trash were picked up along Highway 99.
Over the years in Fresno County, Caltrans has used some parolee crews sporadically to pick up trash with county and city supervision. But recent budget cuts have whittled the work force down significantly. Within the last three years, Caltrans went about a year without any litter clean-up assistance from parolees, said John Liu, Caltrans deputy district director of maintenance and operations.
The new parolee program will create a "total change to Fresno County," cutting back significantly on the litter "eyesore," CHP Capt. Dave Paris said during a press conference Thursday.
Two crews of eight parolees will work 40 hours a week for 90 days and be paid $10 an hour per person, said Colleen Curtin, chief of community re-entry services for the corrections department. Statewide, there are 17 parolee crews.
The $5 million annual contract from Caltrans and corrections will help save taxpayers a lot of money, Manning said.
Last year, Caltrans picked up 150,000 cubic yards of litter, equal to 10,000 garbage trucks, and that work cost $52 million, Manning said. Parked bumper-to-bumper, those garbage trucks would have stretched for more than 50 miles.
Since 2009, Manning said parolees have gathered 40,000 cubic yards of litter, equal to 2,500 garbage trucks. Parked bumper-to-bumper, the trucks would have stretched for 13 miles, he said.
Liu said motorists also need to remember that littering can result in a $1,000 fine -- not counting other court fees.
Curtin said that parolees are connected through the program with rehabilitation services, and assisted in finding long-term jobs.
James Mills, director of WestCare in Fresno, a nonprofit that works with parolees, said helping them find jobs after being released from prison greatly reduces the likelihood that they'll end up in jail again. The Caltrans work program will help many break multigenerational cycles of "dysfunction and self-destructiveness," Mills said.
Caltrans officials said 70% of parolees in their program went on to receive part-time or full-time employment, or attended college or vocational programs full-time.
"California taxpayers spend millions of dollars each year in clean-up efforts -- money that could otherwise be spent building new highways or maintaining existing ones," Caltrans officials said in a prepared statement. "Incorporating training and paid jobs to parolees who dedicate themselves to the department's mission of providing a safe and efficient highway system, free of litter and debris, is a benefit to California motorists and continuous litter abatement efforts."