Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene is starting his third month in office, but he has already accomplished the top priority of his agenda: fully opening the county jail.
Why is having 570 beds available important?
“That’s the No. 1 way to reduce crime in this community,” Greene said on the night of March 6, 2012, after he won the Democratic nomination for sheriff with 56 percent of the vote. The veteran member of the department did not have general election opposition. He took office on Jan. 1.
The fact that the jail has operated below capacity since 2010 because of financial constraints makes last Sunday’s reopening of the final 57-bed prisoner-housing unit all the more impressive.
Commander Thomas J. Assion, another veteran of the department and the administration’s media relations officer, can be forgiven for his gushing review of what transpired over the weekend.
“Opening up this main jail and keeping it open is one of the hallmarks of Sheriff Greene’s administration and it goes to show Sheriff Greene’s commitment to the safety and security of the community,” Assion said.
A year ago, two prisoner-housing units were closed and 23 deputies were laid off. Today, 124 employees work in the jail, including seven new deputies who were hired to facilitate the reopening of the final housing unit.
On the night of his Democratic primary victory in March 2012, Greene, who joined the department in 1989 as a deputy, was promoted to sergeant in 2003 and to captain in 2007, explained that he wanted to get federal inmates back to the county jail to generate income. He also talked about hiring a full-time grants writer to secure federal and state money, and of working with the commissioners, who control county government’s general fund.
Greene gave up his civil service position of captain in order to run for sheriff. His predecessor, Randall Wellington, who had served for many years as a member of the Youngstown police force, including chief, before being elected sheriff, appointed Greene to the position of director of support services, a non-civil service position. That appointment enabled Greene to set his sights on the sheriff’s office.
He defeated former Youngstown Police Chief Jimmy Hughes and Poland Township Police Chief Brian Goodin to win the primary.
While the endorsements by Wellington and the Mahoning County Democratic Party gave Greene an edge in the race, his first-hand knowledge of the inner workings of the department and his well-thought-out platform endeared him to the voters.
By moving quickly to deliver on his campaign promises, the sheriff is letting it be known that he intends to institute the changes he said were necessary to meet the challenges confronting the criminal justice system.
To make the county jail fully operational, Greene initiated fees for service, ranging from jail inmate reception, to sex offender registration, to criminal background checks and foreclosures.
During the campaign, he talked about charging prisoners a $60 or $100 booking fee and also having the commissioners go after the $30,000 a month he believes Youngstown owes the county for prisoners arrested under city ordinances and housed in the jail.
Having the county lockup fully operational should reassure residents that criminals who should be behind bars are just that; they’re not walking the streets.