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Producer Scott Budnick advocates for incarcerated youth

May 3, 2016

Speaking inside the Golden Eagle Ballroom, producer and youth advocate Scott Budnick delivered a passionate lecture on the power of education and mentoring to change the lives of youth in prison.

“I think any of us who teach kids, who have kids, who was a kid, knows that kids can change,” he said.

Budnick spoke last Tuesday as part of the Academic Senate’s Distinguished Lecture Series at Cal State LA. The producer of the popular Hangover movies and founder of The Anti-Recidivism Coalition made the case for more educational offerings inside America’s penal institutions.

The nation’s focus on punishment, rather than rehabilitation and re-socialization, contributes to the high rate of recidivism and further limits the potential of incarcerated young adults, Budnick argued. Often youth offenders were first victims of abuse.    

By providing higher education, “you’re not only changing that person, you’re changing the entire family,” he said.  

Budnick’s journey from Emory University, where he earned degrees in film and business, to Hollywood, to inside L.A.’s prisons, began with a decision to volunteer with InsideOUT Writers. The nonprofit provides classes at Sylmar Juvenile Hall to kids who are facing life in prison.

There Budnick met kids like David Negrete, who at 15 years old was sentenced to 300 years in prison for being present when someone was shot.  The day Budnick visited the writing group the theme was forgiveness.

That day changed his life. 

“It set me off on a very interesting trajectory,” he said.

Budnick continued working with incarcerated young men and women and in 2013 founded The Anti-Recidivism Coalition, which provides a support and advocacy network for formerly incarcerated men and women. The coalition has helped pass bills that provide second chances for youth offenders.

He told stories of former inmates like Prophet Walker who earned transferable credits in prison and went on to be accepted at Loyola. After an unpaid internship he was hired making $110 an hour and later started his own business. 

Young men and women who defined themselves as gang members, or drug sellers, or offenders, come to see themselves in a different way when they became college students.

“They began to change and it was the most beautiful thing to see,” Budnick said.

Budnick praised Cal State LA’s for its work with people who are incarcerated.  For two years Professor Bidhan Roy has offered classes at Lancaster Prison.

“I’m really excited to be here,” Budnick told the gathering. “I have a lot of love for this place.”

Budnick is a board member of the Los Angeles Conservation Corps. He also sits on the advisory board for the Loyola Law School, Center for Juvenile Law and Policy. Governor Jerry Brown named Budnick California’s Volunteer of the year for 2012. In 2013 Budnick was appointed to the Board of State and Community Corrections.

The Academic Senate Distinguished Lecture was created in 2014 during the investiture of President William A. Covino.

“This particular lecture series is one that I hope will grow and thrive in the coming years,” Covino said during his welcome.  

Photo: Scott Budnick speaking at the Academic Senate's Distinguished Lecture Series at Cal State LA. (Credit: J. Emilio Flores)

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Cal State LA is a university dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 27,000 students and 240,000 distinguished alumni, who are as diverse as the city we serve. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, Cal State LA has long been recognized as an engine of economic and social mobility. Led by an award-winning faculty, the University offers nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education and the humanities.

Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex, TV, Film and Media Center and the Center for Engagement, Service, and the Public Good. For more information, visit