The Minnesota Department of Corrections announced major staffing shake-ups in an internal memo Wednesday, outlining an unprecedented shift that will supplant leadership at seven of 10 prisons scattered throughout the state.

Commissioner Paul Schnell called the move an opportunity for "fresh perspectives" at Minnesota correctional facilities.

"This is about the health and development of the organization," he said Thursday. "It has the potential to deepen the bench."

Schnell authorized the transfer of five wardens to different posts, as well as the promotion of two associate wardens. A sixth warden took the helm at Oak Park Heights maximum-security prison recently when his successor joined Schnell's executive team.

Schnell denied that any changes were punitive in nature and confirmed that pay scales for wardens would remain the same.

Administrative restructuring left only two state prisons unaffected: the Red Wing juvenile facility and Togo prison in northern Minnesota.

In the memo sent to nearly 4,300 DOC employees, Assistant Commissioner Nate Knutson classified the movement as a chance for senior leaders to gain new skills and implement original programming at different facilities.

"The wardens at each of our facilities are incredible leaders. They have guided staff through innumerable situations with both professionalism and compassion," Knutson wrote. "I thank each for their leadership and flexibility."

Staffing changes include the following:

• Stillwater Warden Eddie Miles will move to St. Cloud prison, the DOC's intake facility.

• St. Cloud Warden Shannon Reimann transfers to Lino Lakes.

• Lino Lakes Warden Vicki Janssen heads to Rush City (to fill a vacancy).

• Shakopee Warden Tracy Beltz shifts to Faribault.

• Faribault Warden Kathy Halvorson replaces Beltz at Shakopee.

• Shakopee Associate Warden Guy Bosch is promoted to lead Stillwater prison.

• Willow River Associate Warden Bill Bolin will become warden at the same facility.

Most will begin their new positions July 1.

Schnell acknowledged that the changes will require an adjustment period.

"It's not easy," he said, for wardens to leave behind personal relationships and expertise developed at their current prisons. "But I think that expertise will have value that's [transferrable]."

"We're trying to create an environment where there's a sense of movement," Schnell said.

Praise for moves

Several criminal justice advocates publicly cheered the shuffling of senior leaders throughout the state. Tonja Honsey, a formerly incarcerated woman now sitting on the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, said she hopes a new warden at the state's sole women's prison in Shakopee will lead to more gender-responsive programming.

"If you want drastic change, you have to take drastic measures," said Honsey, who applauded Schnell's efforts toward a cultural shift within the prison system.

In recent years, Shakopee prison has implemented several progressive policies to better address the unique needs of incarcerated women. Last fall, the prison began providing a variety of unlimited menstrual products, including tampons, to inmates at no cost.

And in 2014, the Legislature passed an anti-shackling law banning the use of restraints on pregnant inmates during and just after childbirth. It also guaranteed offenders access to birth coaches, or doulas.

Expectant mothers can now receive parenting courses, additional food, and a breast pump to maintain milk production in cases where a new mother will be released soon enough to breast-feed at home.

But advocates say there's much more to do to.

Rebecca Shlafer, a pediatrics professor at the University of Minnesota who works with incarcerated mothers, has a wish list: the ability to pump and store breast milk on-site, approval for inmates to breast-feed during supervised visits with their infants, and institutional support for the transport of children to see their mothers.

"We're eager to build partnerships with the new administration," she said.