Safeguarding your trash: What you need to know

Columbus residents might want to double-check their trash once they close the lid on the dumpster and leave it at the road.

“They’re fairly well,” Brenda Weekley said. “They could do a better job.”

Weekley commends Columbus’s track pickup service, but others find several faults with certain aspects of the process.

“They throw your lid off to the side, and they leave trash in the bottom of the cans a lot. But, considering all the houses that they do, I would say fairly well.”

One viewer sent in video of prison inmates digging through trash while on the job. Weekley has lived in Columbus for over 40 years. But she says she’s never seen what the viewer captured on video.

Muscogee County Prison inmates have collected trash in Columbus for about as long as Weekley has lived in Columbus. Each inmate is required to have a job during their sentence. About 107 inmates are on sanitation duty.

“We pick up garbage, recycling, yard waste and bulky items on once a week collection. You know, we used to do twice a week, everything else was once a week,” Waste Collection Division Manager Les Moore said.

Once a week collection began September 14. Moore says inmates are used for trash and recycling waste but not bulky waste. Bulky waste includes large appliances like washers, dryers, and even piles of tree branches. Moore is a proponent of prisoners working on trash detail because he believes no one else would take the job.

“Most people wouldn’t do that job,” Moore said. “Facts are facts and most people wouldn’t want that job.”

Checking in with Muscogee County Prison, Warden Dwight Hamrick manages almost 600 inmates, more than 100 of whom work on sanitation detail. He says residents have been known to leave “goodies” like cell phones, cell phones components, drugs, alcohol and even food for inmates to pick up during their rounds. Even with the downsides, though, Hamrick says there is an upside to using prisoners to collect trash. Hamrick says inmate labor saves taxpayers about $22 million when it comes to trash collection.

One concern on many people’s minds involves identity theft. Prisoners could have easy access to medical bills, payment records, and other vital information if it is not discarded properly. And although there are no records of inmates stealing anyone’s identity on trash detail, it could happen, warns Columbus Police Financial Crimes officer Sgt. John Bailey.

“We’re seeing more and more premeditation,” Bailey said. “Criminals are digging and looking because it’s a way to make fast cash.”

Moore and Hamrick say it’s nearly impossible for inmates to do much with other people’s personal information. Moore intimates that inmates are only after food or alcohol, while Hamrick explained that inmates go through at least three levels of inspection after completing trash detail. The common denominator among all three: shredding every type of document with personal information is the best strategy to protect trash.

Speaking with a couple of inmates working on sanitation detail, they said they wanted to remain honest in their job because they were looking forward to getting out of prison one day.

“Just family, trying to get back home,” one inmate who looks forward to getting out of prison in a few months said.

“Getting to see the outside, seeing civilization,” said another inmate who has a couple of years left behind bars.

Hamrick says if he catches prisoners digging through trash, or with a load after trash pickup, they could face disciplinary reports and up to 21 days in isolation.

More information on trash pickup routes can be found here. For more details that could help you secure your personal information and safeguard against identity theft, click here.

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