No Joke: Hollywood Comedy Producer Finds Career In Prison Reform Scott Budnick hit it big in Hollywood as an executive producer of the Hangover movies. Then, in 2013, he decided to leave it all behind and focus full time on helping young people in prison.

No Joke: Hollywood Comedy Producer Finds Career In Prison Reform

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Here in California, a young organization called the Antirecidivism Coalition is working to give people who have been in prison a support system. Scott Budnick is the group's founder.

SCOTT BUDNICK: We have just under 200 members who were all formally incarcerated men and women, boys and girls. Some are 18 years old and did two years in the juvenile system. Some are 43 years old and did 25 years in the adult system. So it just runs the gamut, but everyone who is part of ARC is making a signed commitment to be crime free, gang free, drug free, working and in school, and willing to be of service.

RATH: Scott Budnick came to prison reform from an unlikely place - Hollywood. He produced the wildly popular "Hangover" movies.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HANGOVER")

ED HELMS: (As Stu Price) So are you sure you're qualified to be taking care of that baby?

ZACH GALIFIANAKIS: (As Alan Garner) What are you talking about? I've found a baby before.

HELMS: (As Stu Price) You found a baby before?

GALIFIANAKIS: (As Alan Garner) Yeah.

HELMS: (As Stu Price) Where?

GALIFIANAKIS: (As Alan Garner) Coffee Bean.

BUDNICK: Towards the beginning of my career, I spent the first four years in Los Angeles really kind of stuck in the bubble of the business and really kind of in nice restaurants and nice nightclubs and bars and talking about directors and writers and all the things that you talk about in Hollywood.

RATH: Then in 2013, the young incredibly successful movie producer decided to leave it all behind.

BUDNICK: It took a friend of mine taking me down to Sylmar juvenile hall. And I sat with a bunch of kids facing life in prison at 14, 15, 16 and just heard horror stories about victimization and the lack of fathers and physical abuse, sexual abuse, foster care, et cetera, and realized that these kids living 5, 10 miles away from where I was in the Hollywood Hills were victims for many years before they ever decided to victimize anyone else.

RATH: Less than two years after he left Hollywood, Budnick's organization has helped pass prison reform legislation in California, started multiple youth programs in juvenile halls near Los Angeles and recently opened a special dorm for formally incarcerated young men working on college degrees.

BUDNICK: I think the most difficult part about it is just public perception not being in line with reality and how much work it takes to change public perception. Because when I walk someone into my class in juvenile hall or the county jail or the state prison and they sit down with the young men and women who are incarcerated, they leave a changed person. But it really is - it can't only be done one person at a time and one weekend people coming to class. It needs to be done in a much more comprehensive way.

RATH: You've launched a lot of programs in less than two years. Is there any danger of going too far too fast on this issue?

BUDNICK: I think the speed at which we can move is based on the resources we can get. Obviously, I - we have a staff of nine people now, and they're about stretched as far as they can go. So unfortunately, part of my job now is being a professional fundraiser.

RATH: Scott, it feels like there are a lot of people now - politicians on both sides of the aisle - who are talking about criminal justice reform. Is there something special about this moment in history? What's going on?

BUDNICK: I think there really is. We're spending $9 billion a year on a prison system - that with a 70 percent recidivism rate. So I don't think any business that spent $9 billion a year and failed 7 out of 10 times would ever stay afloat.

RATH: Scott Budnick, producer of the "Hangover" movies among others and founder of Antirecidivism Coalition in California. Scott, thanks very much.

BUDNICK: Thank you so much. Great talking to you.

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