By Dana Simas / OPEC Staff
At the 2012 Governor’s Volunteering and Service Awards, Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. last night announced Scott Budnick as the “Volunteer of the Year” for his “marked devotion” to helping California inmates get a higher education.
The public knows Budnick as a successful Hollywood producer, but he is also an avid, long-term advocate for correctional education. He has dedicated his time, inspired other volunteers, and found ways to provide needed resources for students.
“Scott Budnick has gone above and beyond, giving hundreds of young offenders a chance to trade a seemingly hopeless path of crime that landed them in the criminal justice system for a path of opportunity,” California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Secretary Matthew Cate said. “His marked devotion has produced some real success stories.”
Although CDCR offers college courses in many of its 33 facilities, the Youthful Offender Program championed by Budnick with the help of staff at Ironwood State Prison in Blythe and the California Rehabilitation Center (CRC) in San Bernardino County created a unique learning environment.
Young inmates live in a dormitory set aside exclusively for those enrolled in college. In addition to the young inmates who enroll the day they arrive at an adult prison, approximately 600 CDCR inmates under the age of 35 and within seven years of parole are taking college courses at Ironwood, CRC, and California Institution for Men (CIM) in Chino.
The inmates can earn a two-year associate degree in arts or business management through online classes offered by Coastline College and Palo Verde Community College. Last year, CRC recorded 17 associate degrees and 207 course completions achieved by inmates. At Ironwood, 37 inmates received associate degrees.
Of the 75 participants who have graduated from the college program at CRC, only 3 percent have returned to prison. Some of the inmate participants have gone on to attend Loyola Marymount University, Morehouse College in Atlanta, and the University of California, Los Angeles, after their incarceration. Budnick has even taken a couple of inmate students with him on the sets of his movies “The Hangover” and “Due Date.”
In addition, Budnick supports the Prison Education Program (PEP) and the Prison Art Program offered to the inmate population by California Polytechnic University (Cal Poly), Pomona.(An earlier version of this story misidentified the school.)
During the 2011-12 school year, Cal Poly provided 70 PEP student volunteers to participate in the Volunteer Education Program at CIM. The students volunteer two hours per week during the academic school year to assist with academic tutoring, life skills, test-proctoring, study skills, and college orientation.
Budnick’s innovative and unique ideas, along with his nose-to-the-grindstone tenacity, helped initiate a new approach within CDCR. He helped create relationships with local resources and even helped change the dynamic between CDCR and its own inmates. His ideas and commitment have helped create a different kind of inmate by offering a better path for young adults who may have felt they were destined for lives shuttling in and out of prison.