When Allen Breed was appointed director of the California Youth Authority (CYA) in 1968 by Gov. Ronald Reagan, he assumed responsibility for an agency that was considered a national model for providing rehabilitation to youth in its custody – a reputation he helped sow. Prior to his appointment as CYA director, Breed served as superintendent of the Preston School of Industry, one of the nation’s largest and oldest reform schools. It was here that he led efforts to humanize care in an institution that was notorious for violence and brutality, by introducing new treatment techniques and organizational management.
Having established a record for creative and innovative leadership, Breed was selected to continue the agency’s legacy by promoting concepts of institutional rehabilitation. In an industry where leaders too often act as apologists for long established, but failed practices, Allen Breed became one of the CYA’s harshest critics.
Despite spending an entire career with the CYA, when Breed ascended to the role of CYA director, he began to challenge the efficacy of the very practices he once promoted. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the CYA instituted new practices such as group counseling which later proved ineffective within the culture of violence that pervaded CYA institutions. When the CYA’s own research began to question the adequacy of many of its institutional approaches and the continued harsh treatment of youth in state custody, Allen Breed never hesitated to speak out.
In 1972, while still presiding as CYA director, he wrote an article in the CYA journal decrying his agency’s rehabilitation pronouncements as empty rhetoric that hid the punitive reality of its institutions. Despairing of institutional rehabilitation, he became passionate about the importance of shifting the emphasis of correctional treatment to the community, a position he maintained until the end of his life.
After resigning from the CYA in 1976, Breed went on to a short career as director of the National Institute of Corrections, where he dispensed technical assistance to criminal justice agencies around the country. In his final years, Breed remained an outspoken and vociferous advocate for reforming the system he once presided over. Even into his 80s, he continued to speak out about the brutal conditions in CYA institutions and the need for the state to chart a new course in juvenile justice.
In this spirit Allen Breed was a rare leader – someone not bound to the popular line but committed to a greater cause.
This weekend, Allen Breed’s life-long effort to improve the life chances of youth in the juvenile justice system came to an end when he died at the age of 90.
Congratulations for a very worthwhile life.