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Why “The Hangover” Producer Goes to Prison…..Santa Clara’s Juvie Facility Gamble Pays Off….More on LA Archdiocese’s Secret Files

One of California’s most committed, practical, gets-his-hands-dirty, knowledgable and impassioned advocates
for locked-up kids is Scott Budnick—who in his day job is the executive producer for all three of the insanely successful Hangover movies.

Yeah, that Scott Budnick.

(The above videos give glimpses into Budnick’s two worlds.)

Michael Mechanic interviews Budnick for Mother Jones Magazine.

We think you’ll find the whole interview quite interesting, but to start you off, here’s a clip from the intro, and another from the interview itself:

“I was very skeptical when I first met him,” recalls Julio Marcial, who oversees violence prevention programs for the California Wellness Foundation, one of Budnick’s primary funders. That introduction took place at the Sylmar branch of LA County’s juvenile hall, circa 2003. Budnick was volunteering at the time (and still does) with InsideOUT Writers, a Hollywood nonprofit that brings journalists and creative types into juvie to help incarcerated kids find positive ways to express themselves. “I’ve seen Hollywood folks come and go. I’ve seen people do this to make themselves feel better,” Marcial says. “But when I asked the kids why this program was so important to them, they said Scott was the consistent adult in their lives. He became a fatherlike figure to them.”

“He’s the real deal,” confirms my friend Alex Busansky, a former prosecutor who has served on the Los Angeles County Commission on Jail Violence and now runs the National Council on Crime & Delinquency.

And now here’s a snipped from the Q & A:

SB:when I moved out here, I spent my first few years working in Hollywood and kind of staying within the bubble, going out to nice restaurants and bars and hanging out with other assistants and talking about the business. After three or four years, I just found that so incredibly boring. And luckily Matthew Mizell, a friend of mine who works for another filmmaker, said—it was 2003 at this point—”Come down to Sylmar, I teach this creative writing class.” So I went. It was truly one of the most humbling, mind-blowing mornings of my life. And that kind of started my journey.

MJ: What was so striking about it?

SB: It opens your eyes to what’s really happening in our cities. I sat at a table with 12 kids, 14 to 17 years old, who were all facing life in prison. None of them had fathers and they’d all been physically or sexually or emotionally abused, and very poor schools and poor peers and very loose family structure—not enough discipline and not enough love. Most of them came from the foster care system. Then one day they decide not to be victims anymore and they commit a crime and they hurt somebody, and to me it’s like society threw them away and forget about them. The idea that intrigued me the most was, “They go from the kids that we pour our hearts out to to the kids we are terrified of because of one action?” I thought, you know what, I think I can have an effect here. I can understand these kids’ stories. I tried to just go in and be there for them.


MJ: What do the kids think about this rich guy coming in and spending time with them?

SB: I think at first I was looked at as this rich guy from Hollywood who probably wears cool tennis shoes or something that’s intriguing to them. But after a while that goes away, and they’re wondering if this is really a guy who will fight for them. So it takes time. Once they realize what I’ll do if they show that they are serious about changing their lives and really doing the right thing, then I think that ends up defining our relationship. By the way, when I go into prisons, inmates are coming up to me literally every five seconds going, “Aren’t you the Hangover guy? Aren’t you the Hangover guy?” It definitely is an interesting identity….

Read on to find out how Budnick (who—full disclosure—is a pal of WLA’s) got into the “Hangover” business, and his next goal in helping to reform the state’s lock-up policies.


In 2006, Santa Clara County Probation Chief Sheila Mitchell took a leap of faith and invested in some of her most visionary juvenile probation supervisors and got the necessary $3 million to turn the county’s main juvenile lock-up—the William F. James Boys Ranch—into a facility that emphasized helping lawbreaking kids change their lives, rather than simply trying to force them to correct their behaviors. Since the latter strategy had been notably ineffective judging by juvenile recidivism rates in Santa Clara and around the state, Mitchell decided it was time to try something different.

Brian Goldstein, a policy analyst with the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, writes for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange about how Santa Clara’s gamble paid off, in lives and in statistical outcomes, and how a new California bill—AB915—aims to incentivize the creation of similar youth facilities by other California counties.

Here’s a clip:

…Increasingly, experts are recognizing that the best way to improve public safety is to rely less on state correctional institutions for treating youth offenders, and more on the dynamic therapeutic approach delivered at the county level.

In late April, the staff of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) toured a facility that exemplified this trend, the William F. James Boys Ranch in California’s Santa Clara County.

James Ranch is a co-ed, 96-bed residential facility for young people between the ages of 15 ½ and 18, situated in the rolling foothills south of San Jose. The facility and staff are not only driven by a passion for improving the lives of local justice-involved youth, but challenge the conventional thinking by showing that they can receive successful, positive treatments locally. The facility has adopted many components of what is now recognized as a model system, including small dorm facilities, staff focused on youth wellness, and therapeutic programming that is gender-specific and culturally competent.

The ranch wasn’t always this way. Previously, the facility operated under a model focused more on behavioral regulation, which the county’s probation department now recognizes as antithetical to successful outcomes. The correctional approach was expensive, yet resulted in many escapes, numerous violent incidents and high recidivism rates.

Read the rest for details on AB 915, which basically takes a percentage of the $$ savings realized when the counties send fewer high risk kids to the state juvie facilities, and uses those savings to create “a funding stream for developing the model practices and leadership such as those found at James Ranch.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: WLA has also visited the James Ranch as part of a series on California’s juvenile facilites that we have planned for the fall. We too were extremely impressed by what we saw.


The LA Times’ Victoria Kim has an interesting article in Tuesday’s paper about the Catholic Church’s tradition of keeping a second set of books on sensitive subjects within the church, things like a priest’s history of child sexual abuse allegations. In other words, rather than destroying any problematic documents, the church simply tucked them away in confidential files or C-files, that were only for church higher-ups to see.

The docu-dump of clergy abuse files that occurred earlier this year was largely from this cache.

Here’s an explanatory clip from Kim’s story:

Since the time of the Enlightenment, the Catholic Church has maintained two sets of records: one for the mundane and a second “secret archive” for matters of a sensitive nature. The cache — known as sub secreto files, Canon 489 files, confidential files or C-files — was to be kept under lock and key, only for the eyes of the bishop and his trusted few.

After the files became known to prosecutors and plaintiff’s lawyers, the American justice system has pried open the doors to an archive long kept sealed. Thousands of additional pages are set to become public in coming months, as more than a dozen Catholic orders — Salesians, Claretians, Vincentians and others — prepare to bare their own secrets pursuant to agreements with victims. L.A. County Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias could set the date for their release at a hearing Tuesday.

It was, however, at the very end of the article that Kim noted the reason that this whole C-file business should be of special interest to Los Angeles:

Terry McKiernan, founder of which collects clergy sex-abuse related documents from across the U.S., said [retired Cardinal Roger] Mahony was clearly a far more meticulous keeper of records than his predecessors and that may have hurt him when the archive was made public.

“I don’t know of any other diocesan archive where scheming to manipulate reporting laws and access of law enforcement to these cases is as explicit as in these L.A. documents,” he said.

That last sentence is interesting. How exactly, one wonders, did Mahoney limit access of law enforcement to cases of child molestation that were actually reported? Were there instances that members of LA law enforcement allowed themselves to be persuaded by Mahoney not to aggressively pursue certain cases? Or were they as much in the dark as everybody else?

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