By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Editor’s note: A celebration of life will be held Monday, Oct. 1, from 11 a.m. to noon at Acheson & Graham Garden of Prayer Mortuary, 7944 Magnolia Ave., Riverside. Private interment will be at Riverside National Cemetery. Memories and expressions of sympathy for the family may be shared at www.AchesonandGraham.com (may not be accessible from a CDCR computer).
A longtime lawman, who became a state lawmaker and finished his career as a state corrections official, has died. Former Youth and Adult Correctional Agency (YACA) Secretary Robert Presley passed away Sept. 22, 2018, at age 93. After he left state service, he continued in the Sacramento area as a law enforcement consultant and held a lifetime teaching credential in police science, according to his family. He was also a graduate of the FBI National Academy in Washington, D.C.
Ralph Diaz, acting CDCR Secretary, said Presley was a hero.
“Robert Presley was an icon for the department from the day I joined as a correctional officer. His vast and diverse experience helped him lead this agency at a time when crowding and violence were much more commonplace. He was a hero throughout his life and his courage was an asset for our profession. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this time,” Secretary Diaz said.
Presley was proud of the department he led. During the department’s 1999 Medal of Valor Ceremony, YACA Secretary Presley spoke highly of staff across the state.
“There are two major reasons for (for not having major incidents last year). One is the fine work by our correctional officers who are out there fighting these battles every day, and certainly those being honored today,” Presley said. “The second is that all of the prisons built since 1980 were designed so that when an uprising did occur, it could be contained. I’ve had the opportunity to visit several facilities — both CDC and CYA — while being Secretary, and I’ve always come away heartened by all the good work going on in there.”
Presley, who was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery during World War II, began his career in law enforcement in the early 1950s as a homicide investigator in Riverside County. He later promoted to chief deputy of the criminal division and was named undersheriff in 1963. He held the post for 12 years before being elected to the California Senate in 1974. When he ran for office, he had 24 years of County public service under his belt.
The undersheriff position was eliminated in 1975, making Presley the last one to hold the office.
“No longer will there be an undersheriff in Riverside County. Board of supervisors approved a recommendation by Sheriff Ben Clark to eliminate the position formerly held by State Sen. Robert Presley prior to his election to the state office. Instead of an undersheriff another lieutenant will be added to staff. Clark said the position will be designated to help him and four deputies in the administration of the department. It also will be used as a training post for lieutenants in the department, as the persons filling it will be rotated,” reported the Desert Sun, Jan. 22, 1975.
Presley served in the State Senate representing the 36th District from 1975 to 1995.
As a senator, Presley was “responsible for passage of the only juvenile justice court reform bill to clear the legislature (at the time),” reported the Desert Sun in 1975. “He authored legislation increasing the penalty for assault resulting in serious bodily injury. A person can now be charged with a felony, where under previous law the maximum penalty was a misdemeanor. Presley was also the primary co-author of SB 278 the law now signed mandating automatic prison sentences for persons convicted of using a firearm in the commission of a crime.”
Sen. Presley also fought for protections for prison staff.
“Recognizing the violent condition existing in the state’s prisons, (Sen. Presley) has introduced legislation to protect correctional (staff) assaulted while performing their duties. According to Presley, the current law while requiring a strict sentence for inmates convicted of assaulting prison officials and (officers), makes no reference to assaults on other correctional employees such as parole and probation officers. After introducing the bill, Presley commented, ‘SB 685 would broaden the scope of those employees protected by the prison assault laws. I think it’s about time we recognize the danger faced by all correctional workers.’ Sen. Presley, citing a further aim of SB 685 stated, ‘This legislation will also apply to assaults on correctional employees in Youth Authority facilities,'” reported the Desert Sun, April 18, 1975.
Sen. Presley’s committee oversaw prison construction. He was also the chairman of a committee designed to protect children.
“Presley is the chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee of Prison Construction and Operations and spearheaded the effort for a prison in Riverside County. The prison probably will be located near Blythe. Presley also called for stricter child-and wife-abuse legislation. ‘Much much more needs to be done,’ said Presley, chairman of the Committee on Children and Youth,” reported the Desert Sun, Sept. 26, 1985.
His role in corrections and law enforcement was recognized in 1987 when a state-supported academy for correctional administrators was named after the senator.
“The new state-supported school for training and educating prison administrators will be located at the Riverside campus of the University of California. It is appropriate that the school has been named for state Sen. Robert Presley, as we have noted previously (he) for many years has been the Legislature’s expert on law enforcement and correctional bills and a staunch supporter of police agencies,” reported the Desert Sun, April 24, 1987.
“It is equally fitting that former Riverside County Sheriff Ben Clark has been named by Gov. Deukmejian as chairman of the board of trustees of the Robert B. Presley Institute of Corrections. Clark, until his retirement last year, was sheriff for 26 years and is an excellent choice for the trustee post. And among five others appointed to the board is George P Tielsch, … former police chief of Anaheim. The institute created to increase professionalism among prison administrators is fortunate to have these professionals in a supervisory role,” the newspaper reported.
Other buildings also recognize Presley’s contributions to state law enforcement. One of the Riverside County jails is named the Robert B. Presley Detention Center. In 1994, UC Riverside’s Robert B. Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies was established.
Presley was appointed chairman of the California Youthful Offender Parole Board, where he served from 1995 to 1999. In 1999, he was appointed secretary of the California Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, heading the Department of Corrections and the California Youth Authority. He served in this capacity until 2003.