CEO Alum Pens Op-Ed in the SF Chronicle

“A door back into society”

“When I was 15 years old, I was arrested for a gang-related offense. I was tried as an adult, convicted and sent to prison to serve a 15-year-to-life sentence. I went in a child and came out a man when I was a paroled at age 33 — a man who recognized the error of his ways and was committed to starting a new life.” So writes CEO graduate Michael Mendoza in the December 25, 2016 issue of the San Francisco Chroniclein an editorial titled “A door back into society.”

“I celebrated every paycheck.”

Mendoza says CEO has been a critical part of his success after prison. He continues, “Together, my case manager and I celebrated every paycheck. We tailored a plan…I was able to get a job [with] a national furniture chain. After only three months, I was promoted to supervisor and was soon able to rent my own apartment and live independently. Now, I am working toward my bachelor’s degree.”

ANYONE with a recent criminal history…

CEO has an organizational vision: that anyone with a recent criminal history who wants to work has the preparation and support needed to find a job and to stay connected to the labor force. Notably, Mendoza concludes his editorial with a similar sentiment: “I went from a life sentence to a life with a future, and that’s an opportunity many more people deserve that will benefit all of us.”

Read the full editorial >

Learn more about CEO’s program model >

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VICE and Center for Employment Opportunities Announce Six-Month Apprentice Program to Employ Formerly Incarcerated People at VICE

Launching early 2017, VICE now accepting applications for six-month apprentice program, employing and training the formerly incarcerated across content development, production, editorial, marketing and more

VICE partners with Center for Employment, the country’s leading re-entry program that has helped 20,000 people find jobs upon release from prison

(Brooklyn – December 8, 2016) – VICE Media, the world’s leading youth media brand, today announced the creation of an apprentice program to employ people with criminal records at VICE, the next step in a partnership with the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), the country’s leading nonprofit that provides career opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.  VICE and CEO are now accepting applications, and interested participants should email

Beginning in early 2017, the six-month apprentice program will provide formerly incarcerated people who have little to no college or workforce experience with skills across a range of fields, including production, editorial, marketing and other creative jobs, at VICE’s Brooklyn headquarters, paying $15 per hour for 40 hours per week.

Participants will gain access to some of the best creative and strategic minds in media and take advantage of VICE’s state of the art production facilities, including edit suites, voiceover studios, screening rooms, virtual reality and more.  Participants will work across VICE’s digital channels, newsroom, television and film operations, and other divisions.  The fellowship is open to anyone on parole or probation based in New York City between the ages of 18 and 25.

The program will prepare participants with the necessary tools for employment in the field of media, and makes VICE not just the first media company to offer such an apprenticeship, but also a global leader in the field, offering employment and training for far higher quality jobs than companies typically offer.

Joblessness among those released from incarceration is one of the main drivers of recidivism in the United States. More than 2.2 million people are currently incarcerated in the United States, and studies have found that the employment rate for former prisoners is approximately 30 percent.  This apprentice program will provide formerly incarcerated people with skills needed for long-term employment at quality jobs.

“When VICE was given the opportunity to visit a federal prison with President Obama, we could not ignore what we learned – that fundamental elements of our criminal justice system need to be fixed,” said VICE COO Alyssa Mastromonaco.  “We committed at that moment to figure out a way to make a meaningful impact, and this apprentice program will do that, not just by helping formerly incarcerated people re-enter the working world, but by training them for production, design and other creative jobs that will be long term, well-paying careers.  These people deserve the opportunity to be leaders in Brooklyn and across the country, and it’s very rewarding to see the plan come together with such incredible partners.”

“VICE’s apprenticeship is a game-changing model of corporate citizenship,” said Sam Schaeffer, CEO of the Center for Employment Opportunities. “The program taps trainees who are highly motivated and ready to make a change, offering unmatched work-based learning opportunities and access to preeminent leaders across its global network. VICE recognizes that 70 million Americans who have a criminal record can’t be left of the employment sidelines. I’m excited to chart a new trajectory for CEO participants who are seeking to springboard into careers in creative media.” 

“New York is a national leader in criminal justice reform and this innovative program marks another step forward in our efforts to remove obstacles to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals,” said Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. “Through the New York State Council on Community Re-Entry and Reintegration, we are working to reduce the stigma associated with a criminal record and provide those released from prison with a well-paying job, fair and affordable housing, and opportunities to build their skills through education. Rehabilitation not only benefits those returning to our communities, but all taxpayers. I applaud VICE Media and the Center for Employment Opportunities for their leadership, and look forward to seeing this apprenticeship program help more New Yorkers succeed.”

“Americans who are trying to turn their lives around deserve better than a life sentence of unemployment,” said United States Senator Cory Booker. “We should empower people with nonviolent records to become productive members of society, not repeat offenders. Creating jobs for returning citizens allows them access to the American Dream, which is not only fiscally sound, but it helps reduce recidivism, which keeps our communities safe. VICE’s efforts to give people a second chance and an opportunity to develop skills working in such a dynamic industry is admirable.” 

Since it was founded in 1996, the Center for Employment Opportunities has helped over 20,000 people find jobs around the country upon release from prison. Today, they operate in 11 cities across California, Oklahoma, New York, and Pennsylvania. A randomized control trial study by MDRC found that CEO lowered recidivism for the highest risk persons on parole by over 20 percent and returned three dollars in savings for every public dollar invested.

The apprentice program builds off of VICE’s longtime activism and support for the formerly incarcerated, which includes Fixing The System, an hour-long documentary that gave viewers an in-depth look at America’s broken criminal justice system, featuring President Obama’s historic visit with inmates at the El Reno prison in Oklahoma. Surrounding the release of the documentary last year, VICE’s digital channels also focused on the issue with respect to topics covered by each vertical, looking at food, sports and technology issues within prison.  VICE also released its print magazine’s Prison Issue last year.

The apprentice program will be managed day-to-day by VICE’s Rachel Love.

VICE is the world’s leading multiplatform media company and content creation studio. Launched in 1994, VICE now operates in over 30 countries and distributes its programming to hundreds of millions of viewers each month across digital, linear, mobile, film and socials. VICE includes an international network of digital channels; a television and feature film production studio; a magazine; a record label; an in-house creative services agency; and a book-publishing division.

VICE’s award-winning programming has been recognized by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Peabody Awards, Sundance Film Festival, PEN Center, Cannes Lions, Frontline Club, Knight Foundation, American Society of Magazine Editors, LA Press Club, and Webby Awards, among others.


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How to Help Former Inmates Thrive

I RECENTLY gave a talk at the state prison in San Quentin, Calif. At the event, a former inmate said, “I don’t understand why over the 18-year period of my incarceration, over $900,000 was paid to keep me in prison. But when I was paroled, I was given $200 and told ‘good luck.’ ”

He’s right. For our economy to succeed, we need to equip every American to be effective in the national work force. But the more than 600,000 people who leave prison every year are not getting the support they need. That fails them and fails the economy for all of us.

To prepare for my talk at San Quentin, I spoke with some of the people incarcerated there. I was trying to understand what I had to offer them in a speech — and I discovered how much they had to offer me. They are individuals — with a whole range of strengths, weaknesses and, yes, contributions still to make. And while there’s been a rightful focus on ending mass incarceration, there has been little public discussion of how we reintegrate this growing population.

Criminal justice reform is not just about being fair to the individuals who will be most directly affected, but it’s also about doing what’s right for our nation’s well-being. A 2009 study estimated that the official poverty rate would have declined by 10 percent for the years 1980 until 2004 had it not been for our incarceration policies. And while there hasn’t been a large-scale study of the economic effects of criminal-justice reform, most experts in the field agree that preparing people for life after prison is a critically important public investment that would alleviate poverty and increase worker productivity.

In California, incarceration policies have already changed, and the San Quentin inmates I spoke to said that the increased chance of freedom has changed the way they behave in prison. They said they were more focused on increasing their chances of parole and preparing for life after San Quentin by trying to learn the skills and behaviors that can lead to productive and meaningful lives outside.

When you witness the powerful effect the prospect of release has on changing behavior, it helps you realize how badly we are analyzing the effects of the current system on the outcomes we want for society. And when you analyze the economic effects of our current system, it becomes clear where it is failing.

How is giving a former inmate $200 and not much else — no suitable place to live, no help finding work, no help adjusting to life outside prison walls — preparing him for a productive life? Society imposes a stigma on former prisoners that makes all of that harder. All of this decreases the probability of success.

There are five key areas where we could make a significant difference in improving the chance that individuals released from prison can make a successful transition to mainstream society.

First, we need to enhance educational opportunities for people inside prison and just out of it. Many prisons offer some level of basic education and G.E.D. preparation, but it is often inadequate, and higher education is almost entirely lacking. Fewer than one in 10 inmates has access to college-level classes. Inmates who are interested and qualified should have the opportunity to pursue a college education; it will only improve their chance to succeed when released.

Second, we should remove unfair barriers to employment. Many jobs now require professional certification, like being a barber in Connecticut or a truck driver in Texas, and state certification boards often bar former prisoners. We should eliminate those blanket prohibitions.

Third, we should support transitional assistance efforts across the country. For example, the New York-based Center for Employment Opportunities provides work in four states for people as soon as they are released, and couples those opportunities with skills programs, training and job placement. Efforts like these have proven records of success and should be deployed nationwide.

Fourth, we need to help the formerly incarcerated have access to secure and stable housing. Currently, many states ban former prisoners from living in assisted housing. We should instead give individual housing authorities discretion so they can protect the safety of residents but also offer housing to people leaving prison who are ready to start new, productive lives.

And finally, we should help people take advantage of health care coverage for which they are already eligible. Twenty-eight states expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and while most people just out of prison are eligible for it, too many are unaware or need assistance enrolling.

Of course, these investments cost money, but come with a significant return. Because efforts to help people make a successful transition back to mainstream society both reduce recidivism and equip former prisoners to be effective parts of the work force, it will help our economy over the long term.

Solving this problem begins with people outside prison recognizing the humanity of people inside prison. As one man incarcerated at San Quentin said to me: “Nobody is just the crime they committed. We are all much more than the worst thing we have done.”

People in prison are part of America, as are those who have been released. They are part of our society. And we have a powerful stake in their success.



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Hire ex-offenders, not because it’s your civic duty, but because it makes business sense, says nonprofit


By Elaine Watson+

Last updated on 31-May-2016 

If you’ve got two applicants equally suited for a position, and one has a criminal record, which one would you pick? 

Privately of course, even the most enlightened employers would probably admit to favoring the candidate without the rap sheet. But is this just a sensible application of the precautionary principle, or are employers being short-sighted (as well as discriminatory) when they do this?

Without a doubt it’s the latter, claims Genevieve Martin, executive director at nonprofit Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation,  who says the best way to get employers to give ex-offenders a fair shot is “not just to appeal to their sense of morality, but to provide hard evidence” that people that have been incarcerated are no more likely to cause problems in the workplace than anyone else.

Ex-offenders performed equally or better in terms of disciplinary issues

While there aren’t scores of studies measuring how ex-offenders perform in the workforce versus other candidates doing the same jobs at the same companies, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that they are equally reliable, if not more so, in part because they know they will find it harder than other candidates to find work, she said.

At Oregon-based Dave’s Killer Bread, for example (co-founded by ex-offender Dave Dahl and now part of Flowers Foods], employees that have formerly been incarcerated – accounting for around a third of the workforce – have been shown to be no more likely to be disciplined for workplace violations than counterparts minus a rap sheet, said Martin, who was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after the Second Chance Summit in New York  on May 24.

“The data hasn’t been published yet, but we looked at attendance violations, behavioral violations and policy violations, and in every area our ex-offenders performed equally or better than workers that had not been incarcerated, and that’s the kind of cold, hard data that I think will reassure employers.

“Obviously it’s just a small pool of data, but what we’ve been looking at is how do we build a larger study because we know that employers need those data points that they can take to their attorney or insurance broker and help them feel more comfortable.”

The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) provides employment services to people with recent criminal convictions via structured and tightly supervised programs helping participants regain the skills and confidence needed for a successful transition to the workplace.

Employers worry that their liability will skyrocket, but that is not the case

Meanwhile, a far larger study – exploring the military records of people who joined the armed forces between 2002 and 2009 (when the longstanding policy of not hiring people with criminal records was temporarily revoked owing to recruitment shortages) – recently found that those who received felony waivers for enlistment were no more likely to be discharged for negative reasons than those without such waivers.

The study, conducted by Harvard University professor Devah Pager and University of Massachusetts Amherst professor Jennifer Lundquist and researcher Eiko Strader (which is being reviewed for publication), also found that enlistees with the felony waivers were “promoted more quickly and to higher ranks,” observed the authors.

At Dave’s Killer Bread and at other businesses we’ve worked withwe’ve found that this section of the workforce is dedicated, motivated and loyal,” said Martin. “We call it attitude with gratitude. They know they have fewer options, and they have an incredibly strong work ethic.”

She added: “Employers also worry that their liability will skyrocket, but that is not the case. There are only specific instances where you could have an issue, so you maybe wouldn’t want someone with an extortion charge as your CFO, for example.

“We just need to educate more employers so that they are better informed about the risks.”

Worker Opportunity tax credit

Many employers are also unaware that there could be tax benefits to employing ex-offenders via the Worker Opportunity tax credit,  which is available to employers for hiring individuals from target groups  who have consistently faced significant barriers to employment, said Martin.

“It’s very underutilized. Larger corporations often know about it, but many smaller ones don’t know that it exists, and the money is just sitting there.”

“So instead of saying to an employer, this person needs a job, please give them a chance because it’s your civic duty, the pitch is that this person has proven themselves and they are a good candidate. Then it’s not a moral issue, you’re just making a business case.”

Sam Schaeffer, CEO, Center for Employment Opportunities

Instead of saying it’s your civic duty to hire this person, we’re making a business case  

While studies like the Harvard/Amherst paper can definitely change perceptions, however, one of the most effective ways to get ex-offenders back into the workplace is to actually prove to employers that they can show up for work on time and get the job done by creating short-term employment opportunities enabling them to gain skills and bridge the gap between prison and the workplace, says Sam Schaeffer, CEO at fellow nonprofit, the Center for Employment Opportunities.

“Again, it’s all about taking away the element of risk. We provide job readiness training and transitional work placements [CEO has contracts with housing authorities, parks departments and other organizations with maintenance budgets and pays ex-offenders for doing jobs such as highway maintenance] and then we connect people on the work placements with local employers when they are ready.

“So instead of saying to an employer, this person needs a job, please give them a chance because it’s your civic duty, the pitch is that this person has proven themselves and they are a good candidate. Then it’s not a moral issue, you’re just making a business case, because we understand that employers are running businesses.

And fact that so many of the companies we work with are repeat customers tells you something.”

Rates of recidivism are demonstrably lower when organizations such as CEO work with ex-offenders

Despite the fact that rates of recidivism are demonstrably lower when organizations such as CEO work with ex-offenders, and data shows they actually pay for themselves (click HERE) , says Schaeffer, “there is still a misalignment between the apparent enthusiasm for criminal justice reform and the lack of funding.”

Read more about the Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation HERE.


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Social Enterprises as a Solution to Inequality

May 04, 2016 1:15 PM By Carla Javits

In today’s political climate, it’s easy to assume that our civic systems are broken, and accomplishments—when they are not denigrated or outright dismissed by the “other side”—are few and far between.

But increasingly, philanthropists, nonprofits, and citizens—who may or may not share the same political perspectives—are filling the gap where there is gridlock. We are finding and funding new ways to solve problems together. And when it works as it should, government becomes part of this collaboration, supporting solutions that are developed locally and that hold the most promise for wide-scale impact.

“Social enterprises,” which are “double bottom-line” businesses that pursue both profits and the public good in equal measure, are an outstanding example of the kind of creativity and collaboration now emerging to solve the country’s problems. At REDF, we are proud to be at the forefront of encouraging this innovation.

REDF is a venture philanthropy pioneer that invests exclusively in the growth and effectiveness of social enterprises dedicated to helping people who otherwise would be excluded from the workforce, get jobs, keep jobs, and build a better life.

The social enterprises we work with reinvest their profits in comprehensive services that help their employees build skills and confidence while developing a work history. When employees are ready, employment-focused social enterprises help them find and keep competitive, long-term jobs, which leads to greater security and economic mobility for them, and a stronger, more inclusive society for us all.

REDF has spent almost 20 years providing financial backing and advisory services to make these social enterprises succeed in California, helping them achieve the best results possible so that they can give more people the chance to acquire the skills they need to navigate a competitive economy and transform their lives through work.

For example, one of our investments is Chrysalis, a staffing placement agency that is also a social enterprise dedicated to creating pathways to employment for people with low-incomes and a history of homelessness. As part of our involvement, we helped Chrysalis build a proprietary, data-driven tool that allows them to gauge and standardize whether their clients have the hard and soft skills they need to enter the competitive job market.

Using this “Personal Employment Plan” (PEP) assessment tool, Chrysalis has been able to help over 1,200 people enter the workforce in a wide variety of fields, including in clerical, light industrial, street maintenance and hospitality. Through the experience workers gain with these placements, they can begin to build a more secure future.

Among those who’ve turned their lives with the support of Chrysalis is Patrick. After serving 30 years in prison, Chrysalis helped Patrick move on to a full-time position managing a building for Skid Row Housing Trust. “It’s a wonderful feeling to get up every day, go to work, and provide for your family,” Patrick says. That family includes a daughter who is graduating from college.

Another one of our portfolio investments is the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), a social enterprise that provides comprehensive employment services to people coming out of the criminal justice system. As a partner of CEO, we helped the organization expand its operations into California, enabling it to create hundreds of jobs and demonstrating the scalability of social enterprise and the CEO model. Leveraging our California business and government contacts and know-how, REDF also brokered a $1.5M contract between CEO and the California Department of Transportation, allowing CEO to open its first California office in Oakland, followed by offices in San Diego and San Bernardino. The organization now has plans to open offices in San Jose and Los Angeles this year.

For Goodwill of Silicon Valley (GWSV), another social enterprise business that provides people with jobs and assistance to overcome barriers to employment and transform their lives, REDF provided capital investment and advisory support that helped GWSV employ 144 clients in 2015 throughout its multiple social enterprises and business lines – a significant increase since joining REDF’s portfolio. Additionally, we helped GWSV launch a new business line, CleanWheels, a mobile car detailing service that allows GWSV to cater to customers in a variety of locations, including the numerous corporate campuses located nearby. CleanWheels now generates close to $20,000 in earned revenue per month, and employs upwards of 20 people per year.

Our investments have helped these social enterprises transform the lives of people like Katelyn, who once struggled with substance abuse and called a public park home. Thanks to the support of GWSV, Katelyn turned her life around. Today she is paying it forward, working for a social enterprise that helps at risk foster youth. “I am living proof of the potential of a social enterprise to transform a life,” she says.

To date, the social enterprises REDF invests in have earned more than $163 million in revenue and employed more than 11,000 men and women who, thanks to this innovative approach, have had the opportunity to work, take care of themselves and their families, and strengthen our economy and society.

Now, inspired by the extraordinary entrepreneurs who are creating and running social enterprises, as well as those who are going to work in the jobs they create, we are taking our work to a national level in blue states and red states alike.

Our five-year goal is ambitious but achievable: to help 50,000 people who may be at the very lowest point of their lives today gain a chance to work, learn, build skills, form bonds with their coworkers, and make contributions to their families and communities. Our aspiration is to help these Americans imagine a positive future and experience the sense of inclusion and respect that comes with a job.

Toward this end, we began by soliciting applications from social enterprises across the country for the funding and advisory package we had honed through our work in California. More than 200 applications from 36 states across the U.S. made it clear that ours is a solution with broad appeal that knows no geographical or political limits. Communities of all kinds are supporting the growth of sustainable businesses that provide jobs and hope to those who need it most. And funders of all stripes are joining with us to back the effort—from private “investors,” to national and local foundations, to the federal Social Innovation Fund.

At this time, we have sufficient resources to invest in and advise 22 of the social enterprises that have applied — although there are many more that are worthy of support. Over the next five years, we anticipate bringing together this portfolio to learn from one another, refine their approaches, and continue to build the evidence base that demonstrates the effectiveness of their contributions.

REDF also plans to work with them in communities across the United States to create a robust “ecosystem” of supportive businesses, foundations, governments, and nonprofits that can dramatically expand the network of partners creating long-term jobs and opportunity.

Why is this model generating such widespread support? Philanthropy and government are more focused than ever on evidence-based practices that achieve documented outcomes. Third-party data by Mathematica Policy Research, a leader in the field of measuring policy and program impact, shows that for every $1,000 invested in helping people who have faced significant employment barriers become workers and taxpayers, society reaps $2,230 worth of benefits as these individuals become involved in a positive way in the lives of their families and communities.

With others in philanthropy, we are proud to be scaling up a solution that has growing support from all segments of society, due to its proven track record and inspiring goal. The social enterprises that are part of our portfolio provide a reliable, effective pathway that offers people who are willing and able to work, the opportunity to do so.

Hard workers who are community-minded, taking the risk to do it differently. Overcoming adversity. Doing it for themselves. That is the story of this exploding field and of the people employed who have faced formidable challenges—and despite that, are now going to work. Their energy, ingenuity and progress are both testament to and an example of how philanthropy, nonprofits, the business community – and yes, government – can work together to benefit the nation.

Carla Javits is the President and CEO of REDF.

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With Re-Entry Resources, Focus and Commitment, I’m Actually Living the Life I Planned For While Incarcerated

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4/29/2016 08:56 am Andre GaskinFormerly incarcerated New Yorker

Life doesn’t always work out the way you expect it to. That’s a lesson I’ve learned many times since my mother moved us to America when I was 12. When we first got to our apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, there were times when I wanted to go back home, to Barbados. But I adjusted in my first few years, making new friends and discovering life in New York City. I dreamed that I might have a career in computer science one day. But as a sophomore in high school, my grades started to slip. I stopped going to class and eventually dropped out. That wasn’t how I expected my teenage years to go.

In my twenties, learning a trade seemed like the best way to get back on the path to earning a living and supporting myself. I enrolled in APEX technical college in Long Island City, Queens to pursue certifications in carpentry and electrical skills. But while attending vocational school, I didn’t stay on track. In late 2009, I was arrested and convicted on three felony charges. I spent nearly five years — from ages 27-32 — in prison.

Every day that you’re locked up, you think about your future: What do I expect of myself? How am I going to adjust when I get out? What is my plan for coming home going to be? I wanted to spend my time inside doing more than just sitting around. So I took advantage of the opportunity to earn my GED. I signed up for a bricklaying apprenticeship and obtained vocational titles in construction. I was committed to preparing myself for the life I wanted when I got out. I wanted the stability of a regular working person.

I returned home to Brooklyn in late 2014. After being gone for so long, you need support to transition back into society. You need information. You need a network. You need people around you who actually have access to the services that will help you. And you need those right away if you want to earn money and sustain yourself. The past 18 months would have been different for me if re-entry services weren’t there on day one to help me do just that.

On my first check-in with my parole officer, a recruiter from an organization called the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) spoke about the services that the organization offered men and women just coming home from prison. He was impressed by the GED and bricklaying experience I had obtained in prison. When he told me that CEO has connections in the construction industry, it was like hearing that I could pick back up where I left off. I signed up on the spot.

My first week in the program, I completed a five-day life skills training that taught me how to best apply for jobs and get employers to see me for my qualifications and not for my criminal convictions. On the second week, CEO gave me a pair of boots and put me to work. I did light construction and maintenance work on transitional job crews four days-a-week, earning a paycheck after every shift I worked.

With CEO, I enrolled in additional training courses and obtained the construction safety certifications needed to work in this city. I even completed a three-month carpentry class at Hostos Community College. And I never had to come out of my pocket to cover the payment — CEO covered all the costs.

In May 2015, I worked with CEO to set up a job interview with a Brooklyn construction company. I nailed the interview, got the job, and have been working full time as a mason for over a year now. Everything that I prepared for while incarcerated, I’m actually doing today. That’s what programs like CEO are for, to provide the support that people returning home from prison need to stabilize their lives and fulfill their dreams.

Next month, I will be attending CEO’s 23rd annual success dinner at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan as a special guest. And in June, I’ve been invited to speak at CEO’s 2016 carpentry class graduation. I’m going to tell the graduates what experience has taught me: if you stay focused and consistent, you can see your plans through to the end. Something good may finally come to you, even if the path getting there looks different than you expected.

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Do People With Criminal Convictions Make Good Employees?


Heard on Morning Edition by KEITH ROMER


Employers often rule out applicants with felony convictions. Data show when the military made an exception and allowed people with felony convictions to enlist, they performed better than their peers.



Let’s hear now about one factor that employers looking to hire more often than not consider a deal breaker. Keith Romer from our Planet Money podcast looks at why, maybe, it should not be.

KEITH ROMER, BYLINE: Alexis is a 22-year-old from the Bronx. I’m only going to use his first name for reasons that will become clear. Alexis has been looking for a job for months.

ALEXIS: I’ve been applying for every type of job there is available. Anything that’s unavailable I still apply for.

ROMER: One of those jobs was at Target. When they called him back, he was ecstatic.

ALEXIS: I was jumping around. Thank God that I put the phone on mute because you would have heard me scream. I was happy as hell.

ROMER: He went through two interviews with Target that he thought went great, but Alexis didn’t get the job. He’s pretty sure that’s because of a criminal background check the company ran on him. Alexis has a felony record, and for a lot of employers that’s a deal breaker.

JERRY PIONK: The perfect applicant we take is a decent student, a high school graduate, has resiliency and fitness of character, and that’s the kind of folks we’re trying to appeal to and get.

ROMER: That’s Jerry Pionk, a spokesman for a very large employer in this country, the United States Army. Lt. Col. Pionk says the Army wouldn’t hire someone like Alexis.

PIONK: At this time the Army is taking no applicants with any felonies.

ROMER: This wasn’t always the rule, though. In fact during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of people with felony convictions were given waivers that allowed them to enlist. The reason was pretty simple, the Army needed soldiers.

PIONK: We needed more people in, so we allowed and granted more waivers to be signed.

ROMER: For Devah Pager, a sociologist at Harvard, the military’s policy created a sort of natural experiment. How do ex-offenders actually do in the workplace? Can they be good employees?

DEVAH PAGER: We realized that the military, in fact, represents kind of an ideal setting to test some of these questions.

ROMER: Pager thinks these are questions that more and more employers might want answers to.

PAGER: You know, something like 8 percent of the working age population in this country has a felony conviction. So this is a fairly common status.

ROMER: Pager used the Freedom of Information Act to get the military records of over a million service members who joined up between 2002 and 2009. About 5,000 of those had felony records. She found two ways to use the data to test whether ex-offenders in fact made good employees. First, she looked at how many finished the term they signed up for and how many got the boot.

PAGER: On average, those with felony waivers are no more likely to get kicked out.

ROMER: They did just as well. Next, she looked at promotions. This got even more interesting.

PAGER: We actually find that those with felony-level waivers are promoted faster and to higher levels than those without waivers. And that was quite a surprise to us.

ROMER: The people with felony records, they did better. Pager acknowledges that working for the Army and working for Target are pretty different. But she thinks civilian employers could still learn from the military. The military looked at everything about the person who was trying to join up instead of just using criminal records as a litmus test.

PAGER: Employees are probably missing a lot of talent when they exclude people with criminal records.

ROMER: Alexis, the 22-year-old from before, he wants to prove her right.

ALEXIS: I’m a natural hard worker. Even if I didn’t go to prison I would still work hard, harder than I’m originally supposed to. I’m just a hard worker.

ROMER: Would you ever consider joining the military?

ALEXIS: I would love to join the military.

ROMER: For now, though, that job isn’t an option Alexis really has. Keith Romer, NPR News.

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This Bakery Offers A Second Chance For Women After Prison



April 15, 2016 by Allison Aubrey

Bonnie Rice was released from prison last year. After a five year drug-related prison sentence, she knew she couldn’t go back to any of the people who led her into trouble.

“I didn’t know where to go, how to go,” Rice says with a quiver in her voice. “It was scary.” She was completely alone.

She managed to find place to live in a half-way house. But even though she filled out lots and lots of job applications in the first few months out of prison, she didn’t get many calls back. “People look down on you,” she says.

Then she found Together We Bake.

It’s a bakery in Alexandria, Va. that makes granola, cookies and kale chips for local eateries and a local Whole Foods store. It’s also a job-training and coaching program for women in need of a second chance — many of whom have served time in prison, or are on probation following criminal charges.

“These women face a lot of obstacles,” co-founder Stephanie Wright tells me as we gathered in a small church kitchen in Alexandria. I watched as a group of six women worked cookie dough with their hands. The kitchen is orderly, immaculately clean — a refuge from the chaos that some of these women have been navigating.

Rice has been in the program for about eight weeks now. She’s working towards herServ Safe certificate — which makes it easier to find employment in the culinary field once her stint at the program ends.

Together We Bake also weaves in resilience training and empowerment classes to help trainees cope with their challenges. The sessions are overseen by Wright, who has a background in social work, and they’re often led by women who’ve been through the program.

The curriculum is based on a book titled Houses of Healing, which lays out a mindfulness-based, research driven approach to help people change their behavior and overcome feelings of negativity and lack of self worth.

On the day we visited, Colida Johnson, a graduate of the program who is now a group leader, was leading the women through an exercise on how to communicate effectively — with both peers and prospective employers.

“I can dominate and intimidate you,” read a quote in the training guide. “Is this an aggressive style?” Johnson asks. People who are aggressive communicators use language that can violate the rights of others, she points out. So, is there an alternative? How about this: “We are equally entitled to express ourselves respectfully to one another.” Johnson directs the women to role-playing, trying out these different styles.

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Wright says the emotional training is key. “The women often need help with soft skills,” Wright tells us. In a sense, they’re learning to undo some of their old habits and replace them with behaviors that can propel them forward.

Thanks to all the support, Rice says for the first time in her life, she feels her self-esteem rising. “It’s like a team, like a family of sisters,” Rice says.”The women here at Together We Bake have showed me there’s love and respect — and that you aresomeone.”

Wright co-founded Together we Bake back in 2012 with her friend Tricia Sabatini, who had been running a successful baking business. “We realized there weren’t a lot of services for women [in need], ” Wright says. So they combined their expertise and came up with the idea of using baking as a means of empowerment.

So far, Wright says the results are promising. Eighty-nine percent of the women who go through the program pass the Serv Safe exam. And the recidivism rate among the women involved is just eight percent, according the co-founders.

There’s a complicated relationship between employment and recidivism reduction, says Sam Schaeffer, CEO of the Center for Employment Opportunities, a non-profit that provides employment services to men and women with criminal convictions. But Schaeffer says the model at Together We Bake seems to have “many important hallmarks of… job training programs that can be successful,” (He hasn’t visited the program, but I asked him to comment on the model.)

Wright says the emotional training is key. “The women often need help with soft skills,” Wright tells us. In a sense, they’re learning to undo some of their old habits and replace them with behaviors that can propel them forward.

Thanks to all the support, Rice says for the first time in her life, she feels her self-esteem rising. “It’s like a team, like a family of sisters,” Rice says.”The women here at Together We Bake have showed me there’s love and respect — and that you aresomeone.”

Wright co-founded Together we Bake back in 2012 with her friend Tricia Sabatini, who had been running a successful baking business. “We realized there weren’t a lot of services for women [in need], ” Wright says. So they combined their expertise and came up with the idea of using baking as a means of empowerment.

So far, Wright says the results are promising. Eighty-nine percent of the women who go through the program pass the Serv Safe exam. And the recidivism rate among the women involved is just eight percent, according the co-founders.

There’s a complicated relationship between employment and recidivism reduction, says Sam Schaeffer, CEO of the Center for Employment Opportunities, a non-profit that provides employment services to men and women with criminal convictions. But Schaeffer says the model at Together We Bake seems to have “many important hallmarks of… job training programs that can be successful,” (He hasn’t visited the program, but I asked him to comment on the model.)

And perhaps the most vocal in its support is Dave’s Killer Bread, an Oregon-based bakery that distributes its products nationally, including at many Costco stores around the country.

The company plays up its story on its labels, explaining that the company’s namesake Dave Dahl had spent time in prison. “His brother, Glenn, saw a change in him and gave Dave a second chance by welcoming him back to the family bakery” the bread packaging reads. About one in three of its employees has a criminal past.

The bakery’s commitment to hiring people with criminal backgrounds has led to the creation of Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation, which is hosting a Second Chance Summit in New York next month. The summit is aimed at getting more employers to follow their lead. The foundation has curated a set of ‘best-practices’ learned from its experiences employing people after prison.

“We see a powerful connection between successful employment of people with criminal backgrounds and reducing the national recidivism rate, the company’s website reads. Some of these workers “can be rock stars” — if given a chance, Genevieve Martin, executive director of the foundation told us by phone.

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The Case for a New WPA

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April 14, 2016 by  ALANA SEMUELS

When the government pays for people to work, they get out of poverty, a new study finds.

The social worker Harry Hopkins was convinced of one thing during the Great Depression: It did not benefit a man to sit around waiting for work.

“Give a man a dole,” he famously said at the time, “and you save his body and destroy his spirit. Give him a job and you save both body and spirit.”

Tapped by FDR to put those words into action, Hopkins headed the Civil Works Administration, and then the Works Progress Administration, which spent millions putting 8.5 million Americans to work painting murals, and building roads and bridges.

Subsidized employment programs still exist, but not to the degree that they did in Hopkins’s day. During the recession, the stimulus bill authorized $1.3 billion for subsidized employment programs in 39 states. But that programs is ending, even though the need still exists. There are 2.2 million people in the country who have been jobless for 27 weeks or more (the standard measure for long-term unemployment), and millions who aren’t counted as unemployed because they’ve stopped looking for work. They include older workers, those with criminal records, refugees, and the homeless. Many of these people depend on shrinking government relief or have fallen out of the safety net entirely. But they would work, if only they could find a job.

Creating more subsidized employment programs like the ones that ran during the Great Depression and the recession could be big step in boosting incomes and helping the people at the bottom of the income ladder, according to a studyreleased this week by the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Georgetown. In a review of four decades of academic research on the outcomes of dozens of subsidized employment programs, the writers find that there is a strong consensus: Programs that provide people with temporary jobs, childcare, and healthcare can be essential in getting people into the workforce.

Subsidized employment programs “really help get money into the pockets of some of the hardest-hit families,” said Indivar Dutta-Gupta, the director of the Project on Deep Poverty at the center.

Dutta-Gupta and his colleagues studied the results of dozens of such subsidized employment programs over the course of 40 years and came away with the conclusion that such programs can be extremely effective in getting people into the job market and helping them stay there. Though the upfront cost of such employment programs might be high, they save the government money eventually because they help people get off the dole and earning wages that they spend in the economy and pay taxes on. Over time, Dutta-Gupta and his co-authors find, subsidized employment programs have improved the school outcomes of workers’ children and lowered criminal-justice-system involvement among participants.

The researchers evaluated dozens of programs that ran for various periods of time from the 1970s to today, serving different populations and putting them at work in different industries. Evaluations of one, the AFDC Homemaker Home Health Aide program, which ran between 1983 and 1986 and trained welfare recipients as home health aides and then gave them 12 months of subsidized employment, showed that earnings and employment of participants had improved two years after the program began. In New Hope for Families and Children, run out of Milwaukee, low-income people seeking full-time work received an earnings supplement, subsidized health insurance, and subsidized childcare, in addition to subsidized employment. Eight years after the program, researchers found positive effects on earnings, employment, poverty, marriage rates, mental health, child achievement, and behavior.

“Work isn’t the answer to everything but it is the answer to most problems that people have,” David Riemer, who created New Hope, told me in a phone call.

Another program, Center for Employment Opportunities, which I visited this winter, gives formerly incarcerated people a five-day pre-employment class, subsidized positions in work crews around New York, professional development, and help with work placement.

“You’re earning a daily paycheck, and all of a sudden you’re getting on the subway, with that metro card that you couldn’t afford two weeks ago and you’re reading the paper, and you’re sort of like, ‘Yea, I can do this,’” one participant told me.

The authors suggest making subsidized employment programs a permanent part of employment policy. Like most government programs, such a resource wouldn’t go unused.

“Whenever subsidized employment programs are created, there’s substantial interest in participating,” Dutta-Gupta said. “There’s always more people willing to work than there are jobs open.”

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Nonprofit Excellence in an Outcomes-Based World



March 18, 2016

Authored by:

Antony Bugg-Levine, Nonprofit Finance Fund, and Jacob Harold, GuideStar

Social change is hard.  It is no small matter to shift the systemic patterns of society that have left people struggling with poverty and inequality.  But we in the nonprofit sector have devoted ourselves to just that work.  And we want to know how we’re doing.

According to Nonprofit Finance Fund’s 2015 State of the Sector Survey, 74% of the 5,451 nonprofits surveyed said that they collect outcomes data. 81% say they use outcomes or outputs data to help make decisions. Although ‘outcomes’ and ‘outputs’ data mean different things to different people, it is clear that organizations are paying increased attention to evaluating the results of our work.

With better knowledge of what works, organizations, funders, government officials, policymakers and other stakeholders can rethink how to fund solutions to social problems.  Impact measurement has the potential to transform how social sector services are financed and delivered. However, arcane measures of operating efficiency like overhead have for too long dominated the conversation about nonprofit performance.  We can do better.

The good news is that funders also care about results-driven approaches.  The bad news is that funders do not always put their money behind that belief.71% of NFF’s survey respondents said that at least some funders require certain outcomes for funding.   But 68% say funders “rarely” or “never” cover the costs associated with tracking outcomes.

So, what can nonprofits do to create a funding environment that fosters the right kind of progress towards an outcomes-based world? To begin answering this question, we looked to the leaders in the field and found five common characteristics in how they managed their operational realities:

CLARITY: High-impact nonprofits can clearly articulate their theory of change. Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) provides comprehensive employment services for people with criminal records. CEO’stheory of change suggests that if the employment needs of people with criminal convictions are addressed when they are first released from incarceration (or soon after), they will be less likely to return to jail.  From there, CEO articulates a clear model for services, along with various measures of near and longer-term success.

In 2004, CEO undertook a randomized control trial to test their theory of change and evaluate its impact. CEO’s demonstrated appetite for rigor in program design and evaluation was a strong factor in attracting philanthropic support.

COSTS: CEO also has an extremely sophisticated understanding of its full costs, including categories such as operating expenses, savings, depreciation, reserves, outcomes measurement, and more.

In addition to ongoing program support for the critical services that the organization provides, CEO received targeted investments for organizational infrastructure, including a data tracking and performance management system, and a human capital development plan. Combining its theory of change, outcomes measures, culture of continuous improvement, and knowledge of what it takes to sustain complex operations year after year, CEO was well positioned to receive $13.5MM in the nation’s third Pay for Success project.

Most organizations may not be as far along as CEO on the impact measurement continuum. But CEO still provides a shining example of the importance of articulating impact and full costs in a clear story. Resources exist to help all organizations get started. Financial SCAN, a collaboration between our organizations, makes basic financial information and peer comparisons available online for all nonprofits that file Form 990 information with the IRS. Without understanding the long-term investments needed to successfully achieve—and measure—outcomes, the added costs come with even greater risks as we enter an increasingly outcomes-based world. 

CAPITAL: High-impact organizations seek capital at scale. Nurse-Family Partnership’s (NFP) three decades of research proves the effectiveness of the organization’s home visitation programs in producing dozens of positive outcomes, such as improvements in prenatal health, child development, and academic achievement. NFP’s research includes Randomized Control Trial data and a national performance management system that collects data on each home visit. With data as the foundation, Nurse-Family Partnership’s leaders can advocate with local, state, and federal legislators to obtain sustainable public funding for agencies that are implementing and replicating home visitation programs. In 2010, President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which includes $1.5 billion in mandatory funds for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program. NFP is one of 17 agencies that are considered evidence-based under this program. Ultimately, this legislation has helped systemize public funding for NFP’s delivery and growth, along with many other home visitation organizations working towards the same goals.

Nurse-Family Partnership highlights how educating stakeholders about the outcomes achieved by their programs can influence evidence-based policy, ensuring the infrastructure for longer-term sustained support. They also demonstrate how nonprofits are increasingly recognizing the role they can play in creating a more supportive policy environment for society’s critical needs. In NFF’s 2015 survey, 33% of respondents said that they advocated to government on behalf of their organization’s cause.

CONTEXT: High-impact organizations place themselves in the context of their communities.  Another important element of impact measurement is to educate supporters and investors on the economic impact of your nonprofit’s work. Nonprofits operate in the context of communities; their impact occurs within an ecosystem.   That impact might be cultural, social, or economic. In Massachusetts, the Worcester Center for the Performing Arts demonstrated significant impact when they transformed an abandoned cinema into a 2,300-seat auditorium at the center of a new theatre district. An impact study conducted in 2008 projected that the project would create 135 jobs in the community, generating an estimated $5.5 million in annual income for local businesses.  With the support of the New Markets Tax Credits Program, WCPA’s project ultimately created jobs for 18 full-time staff and 250 part-time staff, and the organization spends the majority of its $8.5 million annual operating budget locally.  Surrounding businesses have also benefitted from the increased consumer spending of 600,000 new patrons who have been drawn downtown in the past several years. The project spurred further investment in the surrounding area.

While collecting this type of data can be challenging, there is a vast body of knowledge on how community-based organizations revitalize communities. Resources include Americans for the Arts and the Federal Reserve.

CONVERSATION: High-impact organizations learn from each other, share best practices, and work in partnership. One of the common characteristics you will find among all of the high-impact organizations we discussed is a thoughtful attention to learning and network building. Conversations about the cost of measuring impact present the opportunity to redefine partnerships between service providers, funders, investors and government agencies around a shared vision for better outcomes. This means leveraging and building the right networks, and sharing the knowledge gained through collective research. Nonprofits can use platforms such as GuideStar’s Nonprofit Profile to share their impact stories publically or NFF’s Pay for Success Learning Hub to learn about best practices in the field. They can also band together around common definitions by using the IRIS comprehensive list of standard impact metrics.

Evolution is difficult, unpredictable, and risky. When CEO sought to build a ‘culture of continuous improvement,’ it demonstrated that collecting and responding to data requires an unrelenting, iterative approach to improvement—in programs, finance, and capacity. As nonprofits embrace this culture of adaptation, funders must also adapt their strategies to meet grantee needs, such as providing long-term investments, thinking beyond the grant, and financing collectively. They must also allow nonprofits to move along the impact measurement continuum at their own pace, while recognizing that social change is more than a data set or dollar figure. And in the end, it’s the stories behind these numbers that matter—stories about the people, the communities, and the ecosystems we seek to serve.

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