ST. PAUL — A deputy commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Corrections on Friday, July 19, submitted her resignation six months into her tenure there, citing a desire to advance "wide-spread reform" outside the department.
Sarah Walker, who served as deputy commissioner of community services, resigned effective immediately on Friday, July 19, and in her letter of resignation said she was pleased with some of the work she'd accomplished within DOC, but she wanted to do more.
"In my short time as deputy commissioner, I have become convinced that my voice and skills are best suited for pushing for wide-spread reform from the outside," Walker wrote in her letter of resignation. "There are unique opportunities at the local and national level to advance significant reforms and reduce racial disparities and I feel compelled to contribute to those efforts without encumbrance."
A DOC spokeswoman said the department had received complaints about Walker and an investigation was ongoing.
Walker said she welcomed the investigation but worried it might be politically-motivated, as she previously worked to raise awareness about sexual assault and to prevent gun violence.
"Any suggestion that I was not working or did anything unethical is baseless politics," Walker said in an emailed statement. "I left on my volition. I am an open book and I actually believe in transparency."
Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell appointed Walker, a long-time advocate for criminal justice reform who lobbied at the Capitol and founded the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition, in January. At the time, Walker said she looked forward to implementing "evidence-based solutions to address the cycle of recidivism and the high number of technical violations.”
Walker said she said she was pleased to have restructured the department's re-entry unit, added to workgroups and committees individuals who represent communities of color and advanced conversations at the local level about alternatives to incarceration for those who have parole revoked.
"With limited exceptions, they welcomed me and welcomed the prospect of large systems changes that would reduce reliance on revocations and incarceration," she wrote about her colleagues at the department. "In my assessment, with proper resources and support, they will continue to support reform and are well-positioned to make significant advancement."
Walker declined further comment about her resignation on Friday morning.
Schnell said he received and accepted Walker's resignation Friday.
“While Sarah’s tenure with the agency was short, her contribution in helping us think about and frame the future of criminal justice reforms was valued,” Schnell said in a statement. “I wish Sarah well in her future endeavors."
The move comes during the same week that the Department of Human Services saw its top official and his chief of staff step down, triggering two deputy commissioners to rescind their resignations.
The shake-up in leadership there fueled questions about the Walz administration's management with Republican lawmakers branding it a scandal.
"If there is no fraud then prove it, if there is no scandal behind the resignations of these three people, then be transparent and prove it. Let's know everything that there is to know about why this is happening," House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said. "What we want to know now is what caused this so that we can prevent this from happening again.”
Early in the week, Walz said the resignation of then-Department of Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey didn't point to corruption in the department, but rather an acknowledgment that running the state agency with the largest staff is a difficult task.
“There’s going to be a desire to find more drama than is there, those of you that know me know I don’t do drama,” Walz told reporters. “I will take Commissioner Lourey at his word that he felt he was not the right person at this time."