Sarah Walker

Sarah Walker

Sarah Walker has demonstrated outstanding leadership, commitment, and compassion in her work with youth in the juvenile justice system. She has increased access to services for Juveniles involved in the system and those at risk of involvement.  Sarah has helped improve the quality of services; successfully advocated for policy reforms that increase access to opportunity; and has strengthened both the provider community and the system as a whole through her tireless advocacy.  Sarah has achieved these works through direct service, grassroots advocacy, education, and community outreach.

Sarah’s colleagues state that, “without question there is no one individual who has galvanized as much support for too-often-marginalized issues like juvenile justice reform.” In 2007 Sarah helped organize the first ever Second Chance Day on the Hill to make visible the invisible and crippling stigma attached to someone involved with the juvenile or adult justice system. Since that time Sarah has moved the Second Chance Coalition from a small group of direct service providers to a state-wide coalition of over 65 agencies—organizations ranging from religious coalitions to mental health providers.

Under her leadership the Second Chance Coalition was able to pass three important pieces of legislation.  In 2009, Minnesota was the first to pass a statewide law that required public employers to take the question about criminal record off an initial employment application.  The coalition was also instrumental in passing the Higher Education Notification which requires institutes of higher education to inform students if a criminal record may prevent them from successfully obtaining work in a professional degree program. With Sarah’s leadership the coalition helped garner the support necessary to pass the Safe Hiring Law which clarified employer liability laws in hopes of reducing the perceived risk to employers who are courageous and hire individuals with past records.

Through her leadership with the Second Chance Coalition, Sarah has been able to help educate and advocate for children of incarcerated parents.  She is often found educating others on the role of incarceration and its impact on families and specifically the mental health and developmental trajectory of youth.

Sarah’s volunteer work includes helping juveniles on probation by educating them about the impact of juvenile justice involvement, talking to them about life skills and employment opportunities and sharing her own story with them.   She manages to complete her volunteer work with the Second Chance Coalition and the Coalition for Impartial Justice while maintaining her role as Chief Operating Officer (COO) of 180 Degrees, Inc.  She also serves on numerous boards of directors and was appointed to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission.

Her role as COO of 180 Degrees, Inc. focuses on ensuring that the underlying mental health issues of youth involved in the juvenile justice system are addressed and stresses that the punitive approaches are not effective until those underlying mental health needs are not only identified but met.  Sarah manages 14 staff at the Ramsey County Juvenile Delinquency Unit where 180 Degrees employees provide community case management and supervision to youth who are adjudicated delinquent and have cases open in Children’s Mental Health.  Sarah also supervises the mentoring program for youth who are on probation or involved in children’s mental health and provides specific training to the mentors and facilitators to work with youth who have mental health needs.

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