New county jail warden introduced, hopes to buck recent trend

LISBON — The Columbiana County jail has a new warden who hopes to stick around longer than his predecessors.

Bill Cole was introduced last week to county commissioners as the latest warden, becoming the fifth person to hold that position since late 2015. Cole recently retired after 20 years with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, most recently as deputy superintendent (equivalent of deputy warden) of the 1,803-bed state prison in Pittsburgh.

Cole said the state decided to close the Pittsburgh facility, so he decided to retire. His wife works at the federal prison in nearby Elkton, and they live with their children just over the state line in Bessemer, Pa.

Cole, who holds a master’s degree in corrections administration/criminal justice from Youngstown State University, will draw on his experience to hopefully bring about changes that will benefit employees and inmates.

Cole also said he intends to stay, which would be a welcome change from the past 20 months. Four other jail wardens have come and gone during that period, with the most recent departure occurring in late May after only two months on the job.

Commissioner Mike Halleck is also hopeful Cole will stick around for a while. “We’re very pleased … I think the new guy will bring a lot of experience and consistency,” he said.

Commissioners have been contracting with a private company to operate the 192-bed jail since 1998. The most recent company is Community Education Centers, which was sold to the GEO Group earlier in the year. “There’s been what we call a positive change in upper management” since GEO took over, Halleck said

Commissioners have some staffing concerns they expect Cole to address, Halleck said. GEO was also given a list of concerns about how the jail is being run from county Sheriff Ray Stone and county Prosecutor Robert Herron, but he declined to get into specifics because they are security issues. Halleck is confident GEO will address these concerns.

COMMENTS