This story is part of the Des Moines Register’s world to watch in 2020 series. The stories highlight Iowans us expect an excellent things from in the coming year.

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A nontraditional path

When Skinner remained in grade school, she announced native the backseat of her parents" automobile that she want to it is in a police officer. Her father told her it wasn"t a woman"s job.

“Don’t tell me ns can’t execute that," she remembered thinking. 

After earning a bachelor"s level in psychology indigenous the college of Iowa, Skinner joined a Los Angeles Police Department training academy.


She later discovered her means back to Iowa, wherein she enrolled in graduate social occupational classes. She determined to seek a career in corrections after she interned with the DOC; it to be the perfect way to integrate her legislation enforcement background — security — with social work-related — treatment.

More:ACLU: settle Iowa prison overcrowding by transforming drug laws and also addressing psychological health

“I think it is what is walk to more than likely elevate she nationally," buy it Sanders, manager of the university of Iowa"s college of society work, said of Skinner"s background. The two were introduced once Skinner to be a graduate student.


After earning she doctorate, Skinner operated as the re-entry resource director for a nonprofit criminal justice plan think-tank. She traveled about the country come speak with corrections administrators about evidence-based best practices. 

A couple of years later she got a call from the Iowa DOC, questioning her come come back to perform a $3 million statewide recidivism grant. She took the job. 

The manager position, usually lived in by people with more of an institutional jail background, opened up not lengthy after. 

“I thought, why not?” Skinner said. She became the first woman in an ext than two decades to head the department, i m sorry last had female leadership in 1993, when Sally Chandler Halford held the title.

"This job was created me"

When her family members moved come Mason City, a 13-year-old Skinner was diagnosed with learning disabilities in math and also reading comprehension. 

“I will work just as difficult as anyone else to difficulty myself," she stated of her an answer to the diagnosis.

The many recent challenge, taking on the obligations of DOC director, to be the very first time Skinner claimed to herself, “This project was produced me.” 

Part that Skinner"s five-year plan is to collaborate and also build partnerships throughout agencies, deal with unnecessary obstacles created by the system, and significantly mitigate Iowa"s recidivism rate, which increased by virtually 39% in the past 5 years. 

More:Iowa might soon be alone in the nation with felon voting ban — and become a bigger target because that ban"s opponents

On Skinner"s workdesk is the book, “Switch: just how to readjust Things When readjust Is Hard," one of the many leadership titles she keeps close. 

Her daily regimen includes spend one thing from a self-improvement book and also one research study article. Skinner said the evidence of this is scattered approximately the home she shares with her wife, 3 daughters, dogs and cats.

“I have a duty to this company and come this state to it is in the ideal person I deserve to be," she said. "And I’m working on it every solitary day.” 

Skinner has actually yet come be evidenced by the state Senate; because that that, she"ll require bipartisan support once the 2020 conference begins. 

A team effort 

By the center of December, Skinner had actually visited all but one DOC institution in her effort to meet through staff during their transition change.

“I’ll keep this quick,” Skinner said in November, addressing a room the correctional officers, counselors and also leaders at the Iowa Medical and also Classification facility in Coralville.

She told lock it’s vital to psychic why they execute their work, and also how the fits right into the mission of do the prison and community safer. 

She call it, "coming back to the basics." 

Kris Weitzell, warden at Newton Correctional Facility, said she"s excited that someone as energetic and also vision-driven as Skinner is heading the department.


Weitzell, who career v the Iowa DOC began in 1982, said she doesn"t remember an additional director stopping to visit v staff throughout the state as Skinner has done.

"It really sent a message that she cares," Weitzell said. “If you didn"t recognize she to be the manager of corrections, you"d simply think she was among the staff. She just carries herself as one of the team.”


Nicole Jarrett, division director of corrections and reentry in ~ the nationwide Reentry source Center, claimed a big part that Skinner"s leadership format is bringing human being along. 

Jarrett said for Skinner — whom she worked with in ~ the justice facility — there are no dumb questions. She said Skinner is light-hearted but also has a lot of depth. She brings optimism and up-to-date research data to every undertaking.

"There’s a readjust happening about criminal justice work and reentry work, and also I think she yes, really signifies the best of that," Jarrett said. "She believes deep down in her bones that she have the right to make far-reaching change."

15 people to clock in 2020:These Iowans room working for good in the new year

"We don"t desire to warehouse people"

Skinner reminds her employee that world will do mistakes and also that people can rehabilitate.

“We don’t want to warehouse people," she said. "We want to carry out them treatment to resolve what brought them in in the first place.”

She opts out of labels like "offenders" or "felons," rather using phrases favor "individuals incarcerated."

Skinner laid out a two-pronged approach: changing culture and philosophy and changing strategy.This includes building treatment capacity, enhancing reentry practices and addressing gyeongju disparities. The imprisonment price for black Iowans is around 11 times the of white Iowans — one that the worst rates in the united States. 

“We’re doing an excellent victim occupational if we’re making sure we’re treating these people and when castle come earlier out, they nothing re-offend," she said.


More:Iowa, now the lone state through a felon voting ban, automates part of the reconstruction process

Skinner in November stepped into an extensive mental wellness supervision unit at the Coralville facility.Men in jail cells stuck your heads v openings in the doors. 

“This place here adjusted my life,” one told her. 

“We desire you to be successful,” she told another. 

Skinner told one guy she"d read his letter the morning. A different man preserved his head in his cell, saying he"d been struggling recently. 

“I’m do the efforts to get my stuff together so that as soon as I gain ready to go home, ns on a directly path,” an additional man said.

Skinner ongoing down the line, asking just how each guy was doing and also how he was bettering himself. 

“Beth really carried into social work her regulation enforcement background but likewise this real, kind, gentle way of wanting to job-related with offenders," Sanders said.

Skinner is a adjust agent v the capability to bring a sense of dignity come corrections, she added, lauding Skinner as a dear friend, life the the party and "phenomenal mother."

"I think that Beth is just start in exactly how she will have the capability to revolutionary corrections," Sanders said. "She’s just starting.” 

About "People to Watch"

The Des Moines Register"s "15 world to watch in 2020" room movers and also shakers, givers and doers. They were favored by Des Moines it is registered news staff from scores of reader nominations. Their stories will certainly run in the Register through Jan. 5.


Get to know Beth Skinner

BORN: 1972, Cleveland, OhioRESIDENCE: Des MoinesEDUCATION: A bachelor"s degree in psychology, a master"s level in social work, and also a doctorate in social job-related from the university of IowaOCCUPATION: manager of the Iowa room of CorrectionsCLAIM TO FAME: played rugby in ~ the university of Iowa TITLES or positions of NOTE: director of the national Reentry resource Center at the the supervisory board of State federal governments Justice center in new York; adjunct professor at the college of Iowa; manager of threat reduction, statewide recidivism reduction coordinator and research director v the Iowa DOC

Anna Spoerre consist of crime and also courts because that the Des Moines Register. She deserve to be contacted at aspoerre
annaspoerre.

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