Kenneth Schoen devoted his career to criminal justice reform, developing alternatives to incarceration and improving prison conditions across the country.
He tackled this mission in varied roles: as Minnesota commissioner of corrections, where he helped design community-based rehabilitation policies; as director of criminal justice grantmaking for the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation in New York, and as director of the University of Minnesota Law School's Institute for Criminal Justice.
Schoen, 89, died of myelofibrosis, a bone marrow cancer, on Sept. 1 at the Solvay Hospice House in Duluth.
"He was a pioneer when it came to community corrections," said former Duluth Police Chief Scott Lyons, adding that Schoen firmly believed that both society and offenders were best served by rehab programs that kept them closer to home rather than at distant state prisons.
A tribute posted on the Minnesota Department of Corrections Facebook page called Schoen "The Father of Community Corrections."
Schoen grew up in St. Paul and served in the Army during the Korean War before receiving a bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Minnesota and a master's from the University of Colorado in Denver.
He began his career as a probation officer, which he said gave him a firsthand look at criminal justice policies and sentencing practices and clarified the need for reform. The job also introduced him to Concetta "Connie" Infelise, who worked in the same field. They later married.
Schoen was appointed the state's assistant commissioner for community corrections in 1972 before becoming corrections commissioner. He oversaw drafting of the Minnesota Community Corrections Act, landmark legislation that directed funding to community agencies and local government for such services as halfway houses, inpatient drug rehabilitation and other services to help offenders land on their feet.
In 1978, Schoen resigned as commissioner to accept a job redesigning the New York City corrections system under Mayor Ed Koch. The following year he went to the New York-based Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, where he directed millions of dollars in grants toward prison and sentencing reforms from 1979 to 1996.
"During those years, he was a linchpin figure in efforts to change the U.S. justice system,'' said Michael Tonry, director of the U's Institute on Crime and Public Policy.
Schoen also served as a transition team leader for the Clinton administration on criminal justice issues in the early 1990s, and on the correctional research panel of the National Academy of Sciences.
Schoen returned to Minnesota to launch and direct the U's Institute for Criminal Justice, which has since closed. He and his wife retired to Duluth, where he served on boards such as the Arrowhead Regional Corrections Advisory Board and the Duluth Police Foundation, and started a college scholarship fund for disadvantaged students.
Through it all, Schoen continued his lifelong passion for sailing. His biggest accomplishment was sailing with others across the Atlantic Ocean from France to New York, said his daughter, Carrie Schoen, of Washington, D.C.
"My dad was a visionary, and he was recognized for that," she said. "He had a lot of energy and focus, and was able to channel that into accomplishments that were concrete. He had a youthful spirit, enjoyed life, enjoyed being with people."
Schoen was preceded in death by his son David, who died in 2004, and his wife, Connie, who died in 2016. A service will be held at 2 p.m. Monday at the Kitchi Gammi Club, 831 E. Superior St., Duluth.
Jean Hopfensperger 612 673-4511