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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.

Daniel Karpowitz: Assistant Commissioner

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Daniel Karpowitz is an Assistant Commissioner and was invited to join the Walz Administration in 2019 as a special advisor on criminal justice reform to Governor Walz, and to serve as one of the administration’s handful of interagency leads. He is responsible for driving a variety of high-level educational initiatives across the state system and serves as a liaison between the Governor’s Office, the DOC, the Minnesota Department of Education, and the Office of Higher Education. 

With his leadership, the DOC has significantly expanded career tech and higher education programming in Minnesota prisons. The agency has launched four pilot projects in partnership with Minnesota-based higher education institutions. Karpowitz is also working to grow educational pathway opportunities as part of reentry. 

Karpowitz has organized and implemented a dozen acclaimed higher education programs, in partnership with leading universities, the private sector, and Department of Corrections in states around the country, including Missouri, Connecticut, Washington, Maryland, Indiana, Vermont, New York and Massachusetts. 

Among other works, Karpowitz is the author of the acclaimed College in Prison: Reading in an Age of Mass Incarceration (Rutgers 2017), “Prison, College, and the Paradox of Punishment" in Studies in Law, Society and Politics, and “Pell Grants for Public Safety,” a brief solicited by President Bush’s Counsel at the U.S. Department of Education making the case in 2004 for the restoration of Pell rights to all American – which became a reality when Congress and President Trump restored Pell rights to people in prison in 2020. 

Karpowitz came to the Minnesota DOC from The Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) in New York, where he served most recently as the Director of National Projects. He was a principal investigator designing the research partnership between BPI and the Policy Lab at Yale. During the same time, he was with BPI, he served as a lecturer in Law and the Humanities at Bard College and served as a Senior Research Associate with the Levy Economics Institute. Previously, he taught as a visiting Assistant Professor at the University of California Berkeley. He was a Justice Mapping coordinator for the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Education Services and served as a litigator for the Associate Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. 

He holds a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Pennsylvania. 

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