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Commissioner, Deputy Commissioners, and Assistant Commissioners

Paul Schnell: Commissioner

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Paul Schnell became commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Corrections on January 7, 2019. He was appointed commissioner by Governor Tim Walz.

Commissioner Schnell brings more than 30 years of public safety and corrections experience to his position with the DOC. His wealth of knowledge in these fields is a great asset to the DOC.

While completing his Bachelor of Social Work degree at the University of St. Thomas, Schnell began an internship supervising adult males in a St. Paul halfway house. This internship led to a 10-year stretch of work in a variety of community-based correctional programs in the Twin Cities. In 1993, Schnell moved from his position working with youth at Carver County Court Services to deputy sheriff for the Carver County Sheriff’s Office. In 1999, Schnell joined the Saint Paul Police Department where he served in a variety of assignments, including four years as the department’s spokesman. Over the past eight years, Schnell has served as Chief of Police for the cities of Hastings and Maplewood and was the Chief of Police for the City of Inver Grove Heights at the time of his appointment to the commissioner of the DOC.

Long interested in effective intervention and prevention practices, Schnell became an adjunct faculty member at the University of Saint Thomas and Metropolitan State University, teaching courses in criminal justice diversity, criminal justice ethics, restorative justice, and victimology.

In addition to a Bachelor of Social Work degree from the University of St. Thomas, Schnell holds a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership from St. Catherine University in St. Paul.

Michelle Smith: Deputy Commissioner of Facility Safety & Security Unit

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Michelle Smith serves as Deputy Commissioner of Facility Safety & Security Unit. Smith leads Facility Wardens, Central Transport Unit, Facility Asset & Property Management, Safety, Office of Special Investigations, Nutritional Services, and MINNCOR.

Before she moved into her current role, Smith was the Warden of MCF-Oak Park Heights.

Smith began her career at MCF-Shakopee in 1990 as a Correctional Counselor (now called Corrections Officer). There, she promoted through the Sergeant rank. In 1997, she transferred to MCF-Stillwater as a Lieutenant, then promoted to Corrections Program Director, Associate Warden of Administration, Associate Warden of Operations, and then Warden in 2011. In 2015, Smith was named Warden of the Oak Park Heights facility.

Curtis Shanklin: Deputy Commissioner of Reintegration and Restorative Services

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Curtis Shanklin is the Deputy Commissioner of Reintegration and Restorative Services, where he oversees many key initiatives and work units of the department.

Under the community services division is Field Services (supervision), Interstate Compact, Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative and juvenile justice reform, Community Reentry (evidence-based practices, housing, and work release), as well as the Hearings and Release Unit. 

Before becoming deputy commissioner, Shanklin served as the State Co-Coordinator of the Minnesota Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (MN JDAI). MN JDAI is the most successful juvenile justice reform effort in Minnesota to date, and places an acute focus on finding equitable and public safety-focused outcomes for justice-involved youth. During his career, Shanklin has worked directly with clients, as well as corrections program management. 

With over 20 years of experience, Shanklin served as both an adult and juvenile probation officer and re-entry services supervisor for Arrowhead Regional Corrections in Duluth, along with previous work in both secure and non-secure correctional facilities. Curtis holds a Master of Science in Criminal Justice, which roots his work in both research and analysis. 

Shanklin holds his Master's degree from Metropolitan State University and received his Bachelor of Science from the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Nanette Larson: Assistant Commissioner of Health, Recovery & Programs Unit

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Nanette Larson was appointed Assistant Commissioner of the Health, Safety & Programs Unit on November 4, 2020, by Commissioner Paul Schnell. In this role, she oversees the department’s medical, nursing, dental, and mental health services, Substance Use Disorder treatment, Sex Offender treatment, and MINNCOR programming in the facilities.

Prior to her appointment as Assistant Commissioner, Larson served as the Director of Health Services for the Minnesota Department of Corrections. She held this position for more than 20 years. In this capacity, she oversaw the care and well-being of nearly 7,600 incarcerated men, women and juveniles. She led the delivery of medical, dental, nursing and mental health care and sex offender and substance use disorder treatment.

Previously, Larson held senior management positions in other state agencies including the Minnesota Department of Health and the Office of Technology and was the Executive Director for the Minnesota Health Care Commission. 

Larson has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Iowa and has completed the Black Belt Leadership program through the Joseph M. Juran Center for Leadership and Quality.

Connie Jones: Assistant Commissioner of Organizational & Regulatory Services Unit

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Connie Jones was appointed as the Assistant Commissioner of the Organizational and Regulatory Services Unit on October 1, 2021, by Commissioner Paul Schnell. In this role, she oversees Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Employee Development, Human Resources, Information Technology, Peer Support, Office Services and Operations, the Office of Professional Accountability, Inspection & Enforcement, the Sentence & Policy Administration, and Victim Services.

Prior to her appointment as Assistant Commissioner, Jones started her career at MCF-Oak Park Heights, eventually moving into a role of Human Resources Director for both that facility and MCF-Stillwater. She spent 15 years with the Department of Corrections working her way up to the agency-wide Human Resources Director, before being tapped to lead HR for DHS in 2008. Connie has considerable experience with the unique challenges of work in government service, and, perhaps most importantly, she knows the critical importance of the work of DOC staff. 

Jones has a Bachelor of Science degree from Minnesota State and a Certificate from the Carlson School of Management for completion of the Leadership Black Belt Program.

Safia Khan: Chief of Staff and Assistant Commissioner

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Safia Khan serves as the Chief of Staff and Assistant Commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Corrections. As Chief of Staff, she assists the Commissioner of Corrections in overseeing agency-wide governance and policy making efforts and directs implementation of strategic priorities.  As an Assistant Commissioner, Safia oversees various divisions including Legislative Affairs, Policy, Equity, Access, and Inclusion, Tribal Relations, Research, Planning, and Performance Measurement, and the Center for Excellence and Project Management. She previously served as the Department’s Government and External Relations Director. 

Prior to joining the DOC, Khan was the Director of Policy and Programming for the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women (MCBW), where she worked extensively on public policy pertaining to gender-based violence within Minnesota’s criminal and legal justice systems over the last decade. 

During her tenure at the Coalition, Khan partnered with the Department of Corrections (DOC) to identify and address victim safety needs in post-conviction processes. Her work included leading the Minnesota Domestic Violence Collaborative, a partnership between statewide criminal justice systems and advocacy organizations, to address domestic violence related policy issues. She also conducted research for and authored MCBW’s annual Femicide Report. 

Khan has led and collaborated on legislative and administrative policy at the local, state, and federal level. She has provided expertise and leadership on various initiatives, including the following: improving conditions of confinement, reducing barriers to reentry, strengthening family relationships for those impacted by incarceration, batterer intervention programming; evidence-based policies and practices related to accountability and community supervision; firearms prohibition and surrender; non-consensual dissemination of private images; law enforcement body camera data privacy and transparency; expungement of criminal records; lethality assessments; stalking; protective orders; language access; and addressing officer and high profile person involved domestic violence cases. Khan’s efforts to advance public policy for victims earned her the Minnesota County Attorneys Association’s Public Service Award in 2017. 

Outside of her employment, Khan serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Battered Women’s Justice Project (BWJP), the largest national technical assistance provider and resource hub on domestic violence in the United States. 

Khan received her B.A. in Political Science from Denison University, where she was a fellow of the Richard G. Lugar Program in Politics and Public Service. She is fluent in Urdu and English.

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