Reed Saxon / AP
Los Angeles has been good for Scott Budnick. He arrived over 15 years ago as an aspiring film producer. He found a home in comedy and eventually became the executive producer of the Hangover trilogy – the hugely popular, secular boyfriend movies that are still the highest-grossing comedy franchise ever.
Now he lives in the Hollywood Hills. He drives a luxury car, lives in a beautiful house and has a lot of famous friends.
But in 2013, Budnick decided to leave Hollywood for a whole different area: prison reform.
It was not a move he had anticipated early in his career.
“I spent the first four years in LA really just stuck in the business bubble,” he recalls. “In good restaurants and bars and talk about directors and writers and whatever you talk about in Hollywood.”
In the mid-2000s, a friend took Budnick to visit a juvenile detention room north of Los Angeles. Budnick was moved by what he saw there.
“[I] sat with a group of children threatened with life imprisonment at 14, 15, 16, and just heard horror stories about victimization and lack of fathers and physical abuse, sexual abuse, ”recalls -he.
“I realized that these kids living five or ten minutes from where I was in the Hollywood Hills had been victims for many years before they decided to victimize someone else.”
Budnick began volunteering in juvenile prisons and went on to found a membership organization for ex-inmates called the Anti-recidivism coalition. In 2013, he left Hollywood to devote himself full time to the group.
At the time, a lot of people warned him that he was making a mistake.
“I think everyone wanted me to be careful and not go too fast,” he says.
But Budnick went quickly. The Anti-Recidivism Coalition has nearly 200 members, all of whom sign a pledge to be crime-free, gang-free, drug-free, working or in school, and working to contribute to society. The organization runs several youth programs, and Budnick himself works with youth in Southern California prisons, teaching writing classes and mentoring individual children.
Recently, the organization opened a shelter – like a dormitory – for young men who are released from prison and attend community college. And Budnick is also lobbying for prison reform laws in the California capital.
In 2013, he and his group were part of the lobbying effort that passed a bill that gave those who committed crimes as children an earlier chance of being paroled.
“[Prison reform] can’t be done one person at a time and on a weekend people come to class, ”says Budnick.“ It needs to be done in a more holistic way. “
You can read more about Scott Budnick and the Antirecidivism Coalition in the latest issue of California Sunday Magazine.