Leonard Greenstone, a Los Angeles businessman and developer who helped create innovative training and rehabilitation programs for California prison inmates during 50 years of volunteer service to the prison system, has died. He was 88.
Greenstone, whose efforts included a highly-regarded commercial diving and welding program for inmates at the California Institution for Men in Chino, died Friday at his home in Sherman Oaks. The cause was complications from cancer, his daughter Carol Greenstone said.
Officials with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation this week described Leonard Greenstone as the department’s longest-serving and most dedicated volunteer, saying he had frequently provided his own equipment, expertise and funding to help create training programs for inmates.
“He had a passion for rehabilitation,” said Charles L. Pattillo, general manager of the California Prison Industry Authority, a state agency that runs job training and associated business enterprises inside the lockups. “Lenny really believed that everyone needed a second chance.”
Greenstone, a Navy salvage diver during World War II, also helped establish the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s underwater search-and-rescue team while serving for nearly 20 years with the sheriff’s reserves.
“He brought our expertise to a much higher level through his dedication and hard work with the dive program,” Mike Leum, the department’s reserve chief of search and rescue, said Tuesday.
Greenstone’s interest in creating job training for prison inmates grew out of a 1960 visit he made to San Quentin to see a relative who was working as a deputy warden, Pattillo said. While Greenstone was visiting the facility, an inmate captured a guard and held him hostage, but the man was eventually freed by other prisoners.
Impressed by the rescuers’ actions, Greenstone, whose background was in plumbing, began thinking about ways to rehabilitate inmates with practical skills that could help them find jobs once released, prison officials said. He soon donated tools and equipment for a fledgling program to teach plumbing and other trades to San Quentin inmates.
Those early efforts would eventually grow into the Prison Industry Authority, officials said. Greenstone was appointed by successive governors to serve on the board of the agency, as well as its precursors.
In 1970, he worked with staff at the California Institution for Men in Chino to start the vocational diving program, which trains inmates for jobs in underwater construction, dam repair and offshore oil drilling. Despite a recidivism rate of less than 7%, the program was closed in 2003 because of state budget cuts. It was relaunched in 2006 and named after Greenstone.
Leonard Greenstone was born in Boyle Heights on Nov. 13, 1923, the son of Morton and Fanny Greenstone. He dropped out of high school to join the Navy during World War II, at first working as a cook, then as a salvage diver.
After the war, he started a plumbing company, eventually expanding into air conditioning and development interests. He also owned businesses related to his diving passion.
Greenstone’s first wife, Marilyn, to whom he was married for 60 years, died in 2004. He remarried this year.
In addition to his wife, Arlene Bruckner Greenstone, and his daughter, Carol, of Chatsworth, Greenstone’s survivors include his son, Lee, of Shady Cove, Ore., as well as two granddaughters and a great-grandson.