Thornell, Dr. Ryan

Professor of Practice - Criminal Justice
School of Arts and Sciences
PhD in Political Science, University of South Dakota
MS in Criminal Justice, Univeristy of Cincinnati


Dr. Ryan Thornell has been serving the criminal justice and corrections system for more than 17 years. During his career, Dr. Thornell has served in a variety of roles that have included all aspects of corrections spanning five states and jurisdictions, including both adult and juvenile corrections. His expertise includes public policy, programming and treatment services, evidence-based practices, and special management housing, in addition to the normalization and humanization of incarceration.

Currently, Ryan serves as the Deputy Commissioner of Corrections for the Maine Department of Corrections (MDOC), appointed to this role in April 2018. In this capacity, he is responsible for the overall management and operations of the MDOC, including legislative and policy matters, medical and behavioral health services, correctional programming and treatment services, adult facility operations, and adult community corrections.

During his time with the Maine DOC, beginning in June 2015, Dr. Thornell has led significant initiatives that re-envision traditional policies and approaches to incarceration, reforming a wide variety of adult corrections areas, challenging the status quo and implementing 21st century corrections practices. This most notably includes building a culture of wellness as the Department’s foundation, along with restrictive housing and behavioral health reforms, the implementation of effective case management practices, the creation of universally accessible Medication-Assisted Treatment services for the treatment of OUD, staff professional development focusing on trauma-informed de-escalation and resilient communications, and widespread availability and implementation of evidence-based treatment and programming services. Under Dr. Thornell’s leadership, Maine has become a national leader in 21st century corrections.

Across his career, Dr. Thornell’s priority has been to enhance the overall wellness of the corrections system, including the wellness of corrections staff and residents, to produce positive, sustainable outcomes resulting in stronger communities and reduced incarceration rates. In keeping with this priority, Ryan works to broadly share his experience and knowledge with other criminal justice agencies and professionals, non-government stakeholders, and future corrections workforce members. In 2020, Ryan began consulting with private-sector organizations to enhance their services to the justice system.

Beginning as a frontline correctional officer in the South Dakota Department of Corrections, Dr. Thornell has served in a number of roles and experiences during his career, including roles within correctional facilities and in community corrections. Ryan also taught criminal justice and sociology courses at the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota. He received his master’s degree in Criminal Justice (emphasis in corrections) from the University of Cincinnati and went on to receive his doctorate in Political Science (emphasis in public administration and public policy) from the University of South Dakota.

Thornell, Dr. Ryan