General Sessions Court Judge Christie Sell told members of the County Commission on Wednesday that local litter pickup efforts "were reduced drastically" when the Legislature in July 2016 dropped a requirement on DUI convictions that required 24 hours of community service.
She said the judges "agree there is a growing litter problem and we want to be part of the solution."
Judge Sell said most cases in General Sessions Court are settled by plea agreements between the district attorney's office and defendants.
She said if those agreements do not include community service, then the court cannot order it.
She said at the conclusion of bench trials the judges "order community service when we can."
Judge Sell said in some cases littler pickup is not ordered because of the defendant's health condition or ability to get transportation to the pickup site.
She noted that the pickup is not by incarcerated individuals, but those who are out on bond.
Judge Sell also said that during the COVID pandemic that all court numbers were down, including required litter pickup.
County Commission Chairman Sabrena Smedley sent a letter to District Attorney Neal Pinkston asking for his “immediate attention to the increasing problem of roadside trash across our area” and requesting that he immediately “reinstate much needed assistance to combat” litter.
DA Pinkston replied, "My family and I regularly pick up litter throughout the Glenwood community and, as someone who must routinely clear trash from the clogged storm drain in front of our home, I am keenly aware of the negative impact of litter.
"However, the District Attorney General’s Office does not and has not ever instated or canceled any form of litter cleanup. Further, the District Attorney General’s Office has no power to instate or cancel any litter cleanup program.
"Our office can and does request public service days as part of a defendant’s sentencing. However, defendants are not required to accept such a sentence. Many times, a defendant will prefer a weekend in jail to five days of litter cleanup. Ultimately, the decision rests with the presiding judge."
DA Pinkston said Sheriff Jim Hammond and the Hamilton County Highway Department have been responsible for inmate road crews. He said in 2019, a joint decision was made to discontinue inmate road crews. Those crews did not pick up litter, but did weed eating and grass cutting along the roads.
Chris Jackson, who heads county Alternative Sentencing, said litter pickup crews are down from about 35-50 per day to 5-10 a day. Still, he said, they have already picked up over 130 tons of roadside litter so far this fiscal year.
Mr. Jackson said, "Our numbers have been going down for a while."