New prison chief brings experience

BEDFORD – A Hollidaysburg man with a lengthy corrections resume is set to take over the Bedford County Prison next week, county commissioners revealed Friday.

David Kessling, 51, will arrive at the jail Monday before a Tuesday vote makes his approval official, Commissioners Chairman Kirt Morris said.

Kessling, who sports decades of experience in the state prison system, will be assigned the task of tightening the 180-bed jail’s operations and making the expensive facility run more smoothly and cheaply, county officials have said.

He takes the helm in Bedford County after a roughly 18-month stint as deputy warden in Monroe County, where he had earlier been assigned as interim chief by the state Department of Corrections. He officially left the Monroe job this week.

The Bedford County job comes with a substantial pay cut: a roughly $48,000 salary, down from a reported $70,000 at his Monroe County position.

Kessling had commuted more than three hours to the jail, situated near the New Jersey border, from his family’s Hollidaysburg home. He worked long shifts over multiple days before returning to Hollidaysburg each week.

“It’s far away from home, obviously,” he said. “I was looking to do something else.”

Kessling’s resume impressed the commissioners. They said he spent 24 years in the state system, rising in the ranks from corrections officer to statewide chief of security, he said.

For a year, Kessling oversaw and trained the state prison system’s Correctional Emergency Response Teams, the armed units that respond to hostage situations.

He ended his state career at the state prison in Houtzdale, Clearfield County, where he served as deputy superintendent overseeing 2,500 inmates. Kessling retired from the Department of Corrections at age 50 before taking the job in Monroe County.

“He has a lot of experience in the areas we need,” Morris said. “References were glowing; they couldn’t say [enough] good about him.”

The Bedford County jail has been under Sheriff Charwin Reichelderfer’s control for nearly a year, since Warden Donald Orr resigned amid a secretive personnel investigation. County officials described the reason as a “security breach.”

The jail has caused headaches for the county government, with accusations of prisoner mistreatment and alleged workplace sexism dogging the county during and after Orr’s tenure.

Kessling has experience picking up after scandals. His appointment in Monroe County followed a lengthy scandal, in which guards were investigated for soliciting sex from prisoners, seeking contact with ex-prisoners after their release and smuggling contraband into the facility, according to the Pocono Record newspaper.

In recent commissioners’ meetings, Morris has expressed confidence that the new warden could turn the Bedford County Prison around and prevent a possible closure.