Les Payne as pictured on the Inspiration mural. Image courtesy of Josef Norris.

Leslie Burton Payne, commonly known as Les Payne established himself as a noteworthy changemaker through his rehabilitation work with incarcerated youth. This was primarily as a dedicated officer of the California Youth Authority, and his active membership in both the Lions’ Club and the Commonwealth Club. In addition to being a valuable member of all three of these organizations, Payne was also the first African American to serve each institution, respectively. His impressive achievements were recognized in 2001 when former Mayor Willie Brown honored Payne with the Lifetime Distinction Award for his career working with the youth in his communities.

Payne was also recognized for his integral role in ending the riots of the Bayview–Hunters Point uprising in 1966. Supervisor Terry Francois and Mayor John Shelley understood that Payne was a respected voice in Hunters Point and was essential to calming down the situation.

As stated in the commendation presented to him by former Mayor Brown, Payne was an exceptional officer for the California Youth Authority, and described as being “instrumental in assisting many young people on the road to success while enforcing state youth authority guidelines of parole” (San Francisco Board of Supervisors). Now known as the California Division of Juvenile Justice, this branch of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation provides constructive services to California’s most serious youth offenders up to age 25. Minors in this treatment program have the most serious criminal backgrounds and require the most intensive rehabilitative treatments. Programs provided by the California Division of Juvenile Justice include: academic and vocational education, medical care, mental health services, substance abuse rehabilitation, and treatment programs that address violent and sex offender behavior. These treatments are supervised by the Alameda Superior Court, as a result of the 2003 lawsuit Farrell v. Harper (Fagan).

Les Payne was honored by Mayor Willie Brown and the Board of Supervisors in 2001 for his lifetime dedication to improving conditions for San Francisco’s youth.

During Payne’s tenure he worked tirelessly with troubled youth in dire need of firm and compassionate guidance to minimize their chances of reoffending and letting themselves fall back into criminal behavior and subsequent incarceration. Payne’s dedication to rehabilitating wayward youth inspired his several years of service on the board of the Delinquency Prevention Council (San Francisco Board of Supervisors).

Payne also served “Young Men of Action” and “Youth for Service”—both successful programs that ameliorated life for young people who felt there were few options.

In his retirement, Payne became an active participant in the S.R. Martin Academy, run by Mary S. Martin for years.

Sage Stefanick

Works Cited

“Division of Juvenile Justice Overview.” Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. 2017.

Fagan, Mike. “Farrell v. Harper.” Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse, University of Michigan Law School. 16 May 2008.

“The History of the Division of Juvenile Justice.” California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. 2017.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors. “Resolution No. 884-01.”  Resolution commending Leslie Burton Payne for his longtime dedication of service to the community of San Francisco and especially for his commitment of improving the lives of young African Americans. City and County of San Francisco. 5 Nov 2001.

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