More warden turnover at county jail

LISBON — Another warden has come and gone at the Columbiana County Jail.

County Sheriff Ray Stone confirmed that Bill Cole quit as warden on Nov. 3 and has been replaced by Mike Curley, who is the sixth warden at the facility in the past 24 months. Cole’s stay was four months, which is about the average since longtime warden Gary Grimm retired in 2015.

Unlike the other four wardens, Cole lived nearby — just over the border in Bessemer, Pa. — and his wife worked at the federal prison in Elkton. Cole had recently retired as deputy warden with the Pennsylvania Department of Correction. Curley reportedly is a retired warden from the Michigan Department of Corrections.

The GEO Group operates the jail under contract with county commissioners. Commissioner Mike Halleck, who serves as the board’s point man on the jail, admitted he was a bit surprised by the latest departure, but that is the nature of the business.

“It’s not unusual in the corrections field, especially in the private sector, to have frequent turnover,” he said.

Halleck remains unconcerned by the seemingly endless revolving door of jail wardens since the fall of 2015, as long as the facility continues to pass state inspections and is operated safely and within the law.

“It’s not the way I would do busines, but that’s not our concern, nor should it be,” he said. “That’s why we have a contract with them.”

The contract with GEO was recently renewed by commissioners for two years.

“I understand some people might be concerned, but I’m more concerned about the victims,” Halleck said.

Halleck also confirmed that in the first time since the jail was privatized 20 years ago the cost will exceed $4 million in 2017. The county pays a per day inmate fee to GEO, so the more inmates housed at the jail, the higher the cost to the county.

Halleck believes the high incarceration rates at the 192-bed jail are being driven by the record number of drug arrests, and he estimated it has added $1 million to the cost of operating the jail.

“The drug crisis is bankrupting American in some ways,” Halleck said.