Hollywood producer led push on early parole for juvenile offenders
Just after 9 on Monday night, Gov. Jerry Brown’s legislative secretary Gareth Elliot picked up the phone and called a Hollywood studio executive.
Elliot wasn’t pitching a new movie. He was calling to tell Scott Budnick, an executive producer of “The Hangover” film franchise, that the governor had signed a bill giving juvenile offenders serving long sentences the right to parole after 15 years -- a measure that Budnick had been pushing in the Capitol halls in the final week of the legislative session.
In between producing Hollywood films, Budnick serves as head of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, a nonprofit group that was born out of Budnick’s volunteer work with young people serving long prison sentences.
Last year, Budnick helped push for a measure to allow juveniles serving life without parole the opportunity to have their cases reviewed by a parole board. The measure, which affected about 320 inmates, passed with the bare minimum votes required in both legislative houses and was not signed by Brown until the final day of the 30-day signing period at the end of a legislative year.
“I was expecting to have to wait that long again,” Budnick said in an interview Monday night. “I was preparing for the most tortured 30 days imaginable.”
As it turned out, Budnick and the more than 6,000 juvenile offenders who will be affected by the bill, SB 260 by Berkeley Democrat Loni Hancock, didn’t have to wait that long. The Brown administration is in the midst of trying to persuade a federal three-judge panel to give the state more time to reduce its prison population, and SB 260 factored into its plans.
Brown signed the bill on Monday, just before the administration filed an updated report for the panel asking for judicial patience. In the filing, it mentioned that offering early parole to juvenile offenders could free up space in state prisons.
Budnick said he’s seen a palpable shift in the Legislature on the issue over the last year. While 2012’s bill failed three times before ultimately clearing the Legislature with the bare minimum of votes required, this year’s measure passed with some Republican support. Brown deliberated for weeks over last year’s bill, but he embraced this year’s measure as part of his plan to appease the federal courts.
The film executive also changed his approach. He formed a nonprofit aimed at helping young people who were in, or had been released from prison and the lobbying firm Mercury LLC and lobbyist Bill Dupplisea worked the bill in the Capitol.
Now, Budnick says, he will continue to push youth criminal justice issues and expressed hope that lawmakers’ plan to reduce the state’s prison population could lead to more policy changes.
“Hopefully,” he said, “both the courts and state lawmakers will start to view some of these issues in a different light.”
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