Life After Prison: Looking for Work


January 25, 2016 07:50:25 am


Dorothy Smith, a job coach at the Center for Employment Opportunities, helps Lorenzo Brooks prepare for a job interview.

Lorenzo Brooks worked as an accountant for the New York City Housing Authority before he was convicted of second-degree murder in 1986 and spent 30 years in prison.

He was released from the Woodbourne Correctional Facility in upstate New York on September 22, and has been meeting regularly ever since with a parole officer who tracks his progress as he settles back into society.

“If they tell me to come into the office, I’ve got to come into the office right away,” said Lorenzo, 60, describing the conditions of his release.

“I can’t go places that serve primarily alcohol, I’m not supposed to have any police contact. And, of course, I’m supposed to be abstaining from drugs.”

But Lorenzo’s curfew, requiring him to be indoors between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. was waived, first to accommodate the part-time custodial job he got in October, and then the full-time position he started December 28.

He works the night shift at a homeless shelter run by the nonprofit Project Renewal.

Lorenzo is among an estimated 636,000 people who are released from U.S. correctional institutions each year and begin the uphill task of rebuilding their lives—often with the help of social services organizations that assist with education, job coaching and other services.

But navigating reentry is challenging, studies suggest. Nearly two-thirds of former inmates are re-arrested within three years of their release.

We met Lorenzo at a conference organized by John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He agreed to let The Crime Report follow him at various steps along his journey, as he begins his first real job after prison, reconnects with family, and finds a permanent place to live.

Our first report, combined with a podcast, follows.

Lorenzo’s Story

 For now, Lorenzo has found a temporary home at the Fortune Society’s Castle Gardens Center in New York’s West Harlem neighborhood, which makes available transitional housing and counseling for former inmates.

Lorenzo was never married and has no children of his own, but he has recently reconnected with the family of a woman who was his common law wife since the late 1970s.  Although she recently died, he said her children and grandchildren have become part of his support system, and he spent the holidays catching up with them, as well as with an aunt and cousins who live in New York City.

Born in Norfolk, Va., Lorenzo keeps in touch by phone and Facebook with his brother and four sisters, who still live there.

He moved to New York from Norfolk, in the mid-1970s, drawn by the city’s “bright lights,” he said—staying briefly with his aunt in Queens and then moving to his own apartment.

He attended the now-closed Drake Business School and earned a certificate in accounting and bookkeeping while working in the evenings for the Ideal Toy Company. Eventually he found work as an accountant, first with a shipping company, then with a realty company, and finally with the New York City Housing Administration.

After his arrest and conviction, Lorenzo entered the prison system in 1987, serving at 19 different New York correctional institutions until his release in September. Among other places, he was at Great Meadow, Elmira, Attica and Orleans correctional facilities.

He spent  about 15 years working as a clerk in prison libraries, and said his favorite part of the job was helping inmates resolve problems with their legal cases.

“If a guy came in here and said, ‘I don’t think my plea was legal,’” Lorenzo recalled, he would show him how to look up information on plea bargaining and different pleas.

“From that one step, you’d be surprised how many legal subjects that one issue can cover.”

Finding a Job

 For the past three weeks, Lorenzo has been working the overnight shift at a New York City homeless shelter for men run by Project Renewal, where he and five other staff members are in charge of about 250 homeless men.

“What we do is just make sure that everyone is following the program,” he said.

As he explained, that means ensuring that they are not fighting, smoking cigarettes inside or being verbally abusive to each other.

Soon, Lorenzo hopes to begin a training program for peer drug counseling, so he can work as a case manager.

“I’m hoping to move up the ladder here,” he said.

The first step in getting the job began as soon as he was released from prison. Lorenzo began visiting New York City’s Center for Employment Opportunities every week to work on his resume and meet with his assigned job coach, Dorothy Smith.

The organization, which helps formerly incarcerated men and women reenter the workforce by matching them with potential employers—and serves about 2,000 people each year—recommended Lorenzo for the job he ultimately landed at Project Renewal.

In November, Lorenzo and Smith sat down for a mock interview—going over his qualifications, his prison work experience, and his career goals. After their session, she said he was ready to meet potential employers.

Listen to his mock interview:

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Lessons from the Replication of the Center for Employment Opportunities


01/2016 | Joseph Broadus, Sara Muller-Ravett, Arielle Sherman, Cindy Redcross

This report presents results from a fidelity assessment and implementation analysis of five Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) replication programs in New York, California, and Oklahoma. Between 2004 and 2010, MDRC conducted a rigorous random assignment evaluation of the original CEO program as part of the Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ Demonstration and Evaluation funded by the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services. The evaluation found that CEO was effective at reducing recidivism rates — the rates at which participants committed new crimes or were reincarcerated — among important subgroups of its participant population. Based in part on these findings, the CEO program was selected by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation in 2011 to be part of its Social Innovation Fund and receive funding and technical assistance to expand and replicate the model in various locations across the United States.

Based in New York City, CEO is one of the nation’s largest transitional jobs programs for former prisoners. The program offers participants temporary, paid jobs, along with employment counseling and other services, all aimed at making them more employable and preventing their return to prison. The current study describes how the model was replicated in other locations, assesses its implementation in various contexts, and reports on findings from a qualitative study of participants’ perceptions of and experiences in the CEOprogram. The findings presented in this report focus on the implementation of CEO’s core elements at the replication sites and provide a description of participants’ experience with the program. One additional goal of this study is to gain a deeper understanding of which aspects of the CEO model may have contributed to the reductions in recidivism found in the initial evaluation of the New York City program.

This report’s findings include the following:

  • Overall, the replication programs operated with high fidelity to the original program model.
  • Participants in replication programs engaged in CEO activities at similar rates as did participants in New York City, although replication programs did a better job of moving participants through the model’s early stages and into working with the staff to obtain unsubsidized employment.
  • Participants said that the program’s most essential and distinctive elements were its structure and the support of its staff members.
  • While CEO work crews offered some opportunities for skills training, they functioned primarily as jobs, with the habits and competencies that make for a good employee emphasized through the routine of reporting for work each day, cooperating with colleagues, and following supervisors’ directions.

Read the Full Report

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With Support, Opportunity Can Be the Cure for Prison Recidivism




[OP-ED] The multi-billion dollar prison industry seemingly depends on individuals going in and out of jail, but with the right training, the cycle can be broken


Daequan* came to the New York City-based Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) only 11 days after leaving prison. He was 19 years old, had spent nearly a year incarcerated, and there were few people in his corner when he returned home. He grew up in the Bronx and Harlem. “There was a lot of negative influence for me — gangs, street gangs. It’s the streets. That’s how you get caught up — it’s only trouble. It’s fun for the moment, but not in the long run,” Daequan shared with us recently. It’s a story that we hear all too often. When a person comes to CEO, it’s typically just weeks or even days after their release. They are eager for change, but without strong community support and limited work experience and education, the barriers to success can be high.

CEO is a nonprofit corporation that provides employment services to former inmates. The organization works every day to help people like Daequan see what’s possible for their lives and strive to give them the tools necessary for success. There are programs that connect with more than 4,000 individuals a year to provide them with job readiness training, paid transitional work and full-time job replacement services to help them regain control of their lives. The staff works with each participant individually because every person faces unique circumstances and no one solution can work for situation. CEO’s research and data proves that recidivism — or a relapse into criminal behavior, often leading to reincarceration — can be prevented with the right support, even individuals with the most significant barriers to employment.

Daequan’s is a story heard all too often. When a person comes to CEO, it’s typically just weeks or even days after their prison release. They are eager for change, but without strong community support and limited work experience and education, the barriers to success can be high. After all, their survival is at stake.

From 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled from roughly 500,000 to nearly 2,300,000 people, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. African Americans are significantly overrepresented in the U.S. prison population. Despite being only 13 percent of the overall U.S. population, 40 percent of those who are incarcerated are Black. On the other hand, Whites make up 64 percent of the overall population but account for only 39 percent of those who are incarcerated.  What’s more, for black men who have been incarcerated, wages after release grow at a 21 percent slower rate compared to white men, according to the Center for American Progress.  The statistics are clear: Not only does justice involvement disproportionately affect black men, but the consequences of that involvement are more severe.

Just looking at the statistics, the odds were not in Daequan’s favor when he walked through CEO’s front doors. But he was entering a community that was singularly focused on helping him create opportunities to better himself. “CEO gave me experience and showed me that I can have career options now,” he said. “I never saw myself working, but CEO showed me it’s possible.”

Two decades of research has revealed a lot about the drivers of recidivism. Although the science has become increasingly sophisticated, the key drivers can be summed up simply: Mindset and opportunity. If a person’s attitude, values, and beliefs allow him or herself to justify committing a crime, then that person is more likely to break the law — especially if that person is surrounded by opportunities to commit a crime. It takes more than a job to break the cycle of crime and incarceration. But high-impact programs help individuals shift their thinking.  Working individually with job coaches and as part of a team on worksites, participants find their own reasons for wanting to come to work each day and along they way discover the keys they need to open up doors to better opportunities.

In November 2015, Daequan and a few other participants sat down with Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama, when she visited CEO to discuss the administration’s prison reentry agenda. He shared with her his fears and described his challenges. When she asked what he needed to overcome these obstacles he said, “All I need is someone to be there for me. Not to give up on me. If someone were to believe in me, I just might make it. Oh, and a way to earn a paycheck. That would help, too.”

During her visit Ms. Jarrett noted that criminal justice reform — and making sure there are second chances for men and women like Daequan — was one of the few things that Republicans and Democrats could agree on.

Today the United States represents five percent of the world’s population and has 25 percent of world’s prisoners. Approximately $70 billion is spent on corrections yearly in this country, according to a study by the Advancement Project and the Power U Center for Social Change.  Many leaders from both sides of the aisle recognize the urgent need to address the shortcomings of our country’s justice system given the exorbitant costs financial and human costs. But our entire country must rally around returning citizens. That means businesses need to examine their hiring practices for people with a criminal record; educational institutions need to create learning and training opportunities; and each and every one of us needs to recognize that no one should even be thought of as an “ex-con” and have their past preclude them from working towards a more promising future.

Sam Schaeffer is CEO of Center for Employment Opportunities

*Last name held for privacy purposes.

Read more at EBONY

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Make a Year-end Contribution to CEO

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Dear Friend,

This year over 600,000 men and women came home from prison. Too many returned to their communities with little education or work experience and a narrow set of opportunities.

At CEO, we have worked for 20 years to reduce the barriers men and women face after returning from prison, and 2015 was a truly remarkable year for our organization. CEO provided services to thousands of recently released men and women around the country, and our efforts have been nationally recognized – from the White House, to VICE media, to last week’s feature inThe Atlantic.

As the year draws to a close, I am thrilled to share some additional highlights and accomplishments CEO achieved in 2015:

CEO continued to expand its reach – In August, CEO opened a new site in Philadelphia in partnership with the GreenLight Fund, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, and the City of Philadelphia. In the next six months, CEO plans to further expand its impact with new sites in Los Angeles and Santa Clara, California.

CEO deepened its impact – With offices in 11 cities across California, New York, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, CEO served a record number of 4,188 people.

CEO showcased its work – After filming a special report, VICE Mediapartnered with CEO to encourage businesses to hire people with criminal records. In November, the White House identified CEO as a leader in the field of reentry and we hosted Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President, at our NYC headquarters.

Today, we have a once in a generation opportunity to fix many elements in our criminal justice system, including the barriers people face when they return from prison. CEO is committed to being part of the solution and more than doubling the number of individuals we serve over the next five years. CEO’s vision is that anyone with a criminal history who wants to work should have the preparation and support needed to find and keep a job. We need your support to help make this vision a reality.

Please make your contribution today and give thousands of men and women the life-changing gift of getting back into the workforce.

We are counting on your support to break the cycle of incarceration, poverty and unemployment.

Best wishes for the New Year,

Sam Schaeffer
CEO, Center for Employment Opportunities


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In criminal justice, signs of a shift toward compassion

New pardons by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo are the latest evidence of a desire among states and the federal government to help a generation of convicts.

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There were dozens of job interviews and dozens of times being passed over. Her felony conviction was a “scarlet letter.” Then, one day, someone at a job interview told her she was valuable and promised to get her a job.

“And a month later they did,” Ms. Nixon says. “That was the moment for me. I realized human beings are basically decent, and they want to do the right thing. And that gave me back my hope in humanity.”

On Sunday, ex-convicts facing the same challenges Nixon did got their own reason to hope. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he will grant “conditional pardons” to nearly 10,000 former inmates – pardons for those convicted of nonviolent crimes when they were 16 or 17, and who have not gotten into trouble for 10 years after their release.

On one hand, the move was practical. Nationwide, some 700,000 inmates are being released from jails and prisons each year – part of the some 70 million Americans who have criminal records – making the question of reintegration urgent.

But the move also points to what Nixon said changed her life: compassion.

In discussing his plan, Governor Cuomo said it balances “compassion and caring and protecting society.”

There are signs that that impulse toward compassion is becoming a bigger part of the criminal justice conversation. As the get-tough-on-crime 1980s and ’90s come under increasing scrutiny for taking little thought for the reintegration of a generation of criminals, today’s emerging policies show an attempt to help those now honestly seeking to rebuild lives.

“Every day, we’re adding to the 70 million Americans with convictions who are going to face these challenges,” says Sam Schaeffer, head of the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) in New York City, which helps those just out of prison find and keep jobs. “Policies like the one the governor enacted, and that the White House has enacted – these are important not only for the number of people this helps just as a matter of pragmatics, but also, symbolically – hopefully getting other governors to act and think along the same lines.”

Mounting costs

During the past year in particular, state governments both red and blue – as well as the Obama administration – have taken steps to address the nation’s burgeoning prison population. Some have adjusted drug laws, some have eased sentencing for nonviolent crimes.

Driving the changes is an emerging financial reality: The costs of maintaining the country’s prison population are a growing burdens on state budgets and taxpayers.

But Governor Cuomo went further in comments Monday. He singled out the problem many of these young offenders have now when applying for jobs. “The stigma of having been incarcerated, the stigma of having committed a crime makes it very, very hard, and that’s not what we need to do,” Cuomo told NY1, a local news channel, on Monday.

“This is establishing a new policy with really a different goal,” he added. “First, this nation needs to take a step back and really, I think, revisit the criminal justice system – the institutionalization of men and women who have committed a crime…. What is the purpose of the institutionalization? Are we trying to protect society? Are we trying to rehabilitate people? We have more people in prisons than any industrialized nation on the globe.”

Nixon is not hoping to receive a pardon for the crime she committed almost two decades ago. But she knows the power that a different view of convicts can have.

Nixon had done well on the application test for a job at a hospital, and her pre-prison job experience meant she met the qualifications for a clerk’s position. The human resources administrator there decided to take a chance on her.

Though Nixon didn’t get a job right away, the administrator assured her they would call when they found one.

When Nixon got the job, “that’s when I decided to enroll in school and build up my capacity to do more with my life.”

A life changed

Today, Nixon is the executive director of College and Community Fellowship, an organization that helps former female inmates get their college degrees. She was one of the first women to go through the program 15 years ago, and they helped her get a degree in nonprofit management – a degree that enabled her to now run the organization that helped her.

“That’s what’s needed,” says Mr. Schaeffer of CEO. “It’s not just moving forward to make things better. I think we also have to go back and show compassion.”

“Yes, we have to first unwind the sentencing practices that have gotten us here in the first place,” he adds. “But then, especially for those with nonviolent drug offenses, and those who committed crimes when they were 16 and 17 years old – to us, this is just common sense.”

The pardon plan announced by the governor will not completely expunge a person’s criminal record. But it will allow former inmates to apply for jobs they were legally barred from holding, including jobs in schools, nursing homes, real estate brokerages, and security companies. They would have to check “Yes” in boxes asking if the applicant had ever been convicted of a crime, but the governor would provide documentation for an official pardon.

New York is one of only two states (along with North Carolina) that automatically treats 16 and 17 year olds as adults in criminal cases. Bills to “raise the age” have been blocked by Senate Republicans.

Many local and state prosecutors supported the governor’s plan. Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan district attorney, said the plan could give former inmates “a chance to go forward in their lives with a clean slate and achieve their maximum potential,” according to The New York Times.

Nixon recognizes that public safety remains a crucial concern. But she believes stories like hers can resonate with many.

“The nature of humanity is that we are flawed,” she says, “and unless those stories are told so that people can relate to them … people will be driven by their fears.”

“But when they’re driven by their capacity for compassion,” she adds, “it tends to alleviate some of that fear, because you see people as human beings capable of change.”

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How 1 Million Trees Can Change a City




A year after I moved away from Brooklyn, my former roommate sent a picture of our changing neighborhood. Not of the swank coffee shop that replaced the corner bodega, nor any of the dark bars creeping into Bushwick. Mallika sent a picture of a spindly young elm: a street tree the city had just planted at the base of our stoop. She was thrilled.

The little elm was just one in a row of saplings stretching down the block, and the block just one of thousands in the city to receive new street trees in the last eight years through MillionTreesNYC.

A collaboration between New York City’s parks department and conservation nonprofit New York Restoration Project (NYRP), the initiative just succeeded in planting 1 million new trees in the city this decade. The final tree was planted last month, two years ahead of schedule. While cities like Los Angeles, Boston and Denver have all set the same goal, New York is the first to meet it.

Beyond 220,000 new street trees, MillionTreesNYC planted in parks, on public and private property, and in all five boroughs, increasing the city’s urban canopy by 20 percent.


While the city planted 70 percent of the trees in parks and on streets, NYRP was tasked with getting the remainder into public and private spaces, including hospitals, libraries, churches, public housing developments and private yards.

“The urban forest isn’t just on parkland. It’s actually the totality of trees that run through the streets of the city, through housing developments, cemeteries, schoolyards, wherever,” says Deborah Marton, executive director of NYRP.

The initiative began as part of PlaNYC, former mayor Michael Bloomberg’s call for all city agencies to sustainably prepare for 1 million new residents by 2030.

“As we’re increasing the impact on New York City, through development and accommodating more people, we need to be able to compensate for that with additional natural resources and the benefits they provide,” says Jennifer Greenfeld, NYC Park’s acting chief of forestry, horticulture and natural resources.

The benefits of trees are manifold: They sequester carbon, filter air pollution and are rooted in soil that reduces stormwater runoff. But historically, not all neighborhoods have been equally forested.

Before launching the million trees initiative, the NYC parks department had already identified neighborhoods with the greatest lack of and most need for trees by overlaying urban canopy maps with community health survey maps. Unemployment, low incomes, the rate of hospitalization for asthma for children for 14 or under — all correlated with the absence of trees.

From this data the agency designated six “Trees for Public Health” neighborhoods to receive canopy management plans and targeted planting: Hunts Point and Morrisania in the Bronx, East New York in Brooklyn, East Harlem in Manhattan, Stapleton in Staten Island and The Rockaways in Queens.

These neighborhoods not only received trees in public areas, but Marton says NYRP also focused its community-based efforts on them. Twenty-six percent of the city is private, residential property. NYRP sought to increase foliage on that land too, by giving away trees to individuals and organizations.

“The fact is, when you plant a tree yourself, you’re much more likely to take care of it,” says Marton. In addition to trees, NYRP provided tree care education through printed materials, workshops and mini grants for community groups.

Marton says, “Beyond two years, trees can more or less take care of themselves, but they need those two years of extra care. What we learned at NYRP as an institution is that some communities are able to give trees those two years, but not all of them.”

In neighborhoods that struggle with tree tending, NYRP has sometimes brought in outside groups for stewardship. For a new planting of 1,200 trees in the South Bronx, NYRP has funded two years of maintenance through the Center for Employment Opportunities, a post-incarceration job-training program.

Half of the remaining million trees were planted in NYC’s urban forests. Of the 10,000 acres of natural areas in the parks department’s jurisdiction, 7,000 are forest. Greenfeld says these areas had been long neglected, victim to arson and dumping. With the help of thousands of volunteers, MillionTreesNYC was able to plant 20,000 saplings a season in forests, restoring 700 acres citywide.

With the million trees planted and two and a half years of remaining funding, NYRP andNYC Parks are continuing to plant and focus on stewarding trees into the future. Million tree planting initiatives have been criticized for not being able to maintain the trees into maturity, when they provide the greatest benefits.

Greenfeld says NYC Parks has gotten better at choosing the right trees for the environment, in large part by working closely with nurseries, thereby increasing survival rates.

The next step is an updated census of all street trees; the last was taken in 2006.

“We learned it was a stumbling block for communities to adopt and track their trees because we didn’t have an accurate map,” says Greenfeld. “The result of this street tree census is going to be a highly accurate map where we will create a portal, a public-facing map where stewards can interact with their trees and record the work they’re doing.”

Anyone can adopt a tree to care for through the MillionTreesNYC website, and attend workshops to learn more about stewardship. Thanks to additional funding for tree maintenance in the city budget since 2013, claims against the city for tree-related injuries and damages are at historic lows.

“Too often we don’t think about trees as infrastructure and consequently they don’t get managed over time as infrastructure, and they really provide their greatest benefits when they mature,” says Marton.

The Works is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

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A New Investment Opportunity: Helping Ex-Convicts

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A New York program asks outsiders to fund a promising initiative to reduce recidivism. If it gets results, they get a payout.


In this photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011, Sacramento County Deputy Sheriff Chris Carroll opens a cell at a formerly closed housing unit at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, in Elk Grove, Calif. that will be reopened to handle the increase of inmates sentenced under the new prison realignment program. The realignment plan, championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, is aimed at slashing the state's costs and reducing its prison populations by allowing judges to send non-violent, lower level offenders to county jail for crimes such as property, white collar and drug offenses instead of state prison. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In this photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011, Sacramento County Deputy Sheriff Chris Carroll opens a cell at a formerly closed housing unit at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, in Elk Grove, Calif. that will be reopened to handle the increase of inmates sentenced under the new prison realignment program. The realignment plan, championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, is aimed at slashing the state’s costs and reducing its prison populations by allowing judges to send non-violent, lower level offenders to county jail for crimes such as property, white collar and drug offenses instead of state prison. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)


Every year, the government spends billions of dollars on programs designed to help America’s neediest citizens. In many cases, whether these programs work is anyone’s guess.

Less than $1 out of every $100 of federal government spending is “backed by even the most basic evidence that the money is being spent wisely,” wrote Peter Orszag, the former head of the Office of Management and Budget, and John Bridgeland, the former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, in a2013 piece in The Atlantic.

In their article, Orszag and Bridgeland advocate for a “moneyball for government,” arguing that an era of fiscal scarcity should force Washington to become more results-oriented.

A new partnership among New York State, 40 private investors, and a nonprofit called the Center for Employment Opportunities seeks to apply this sort of thinking to an area of policy that has been particularly resistant to interventions: lowering the recidivism rate in an era of growing prison populations.

The investors, including private philanthropists and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, have put up a total of $13.5 million to fund an expansion of the work that an organization called the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) already does with people coming out of prison. CEO’s model is simple:  It prepares people who have criminal records for the workplace, gives them up to 75 days of temporary employment, and then helps them find jobs of their own. With the $13.5 million, CEO will work with an additional 2,000 clients, targeting the highest-risk people.

But the expansion of the program isn’t charity: The project is a so-called “Pay for Success” initiative, modeled after social-impact bonds, which were first used in the United Kingdom five years ago. The basic idea is that investors fund a program that has a promising approach, putting in place extensive data-collection points so that they can track the program’s results. The investors are betting on the idea that the program can do a better—and less expensive—job of providing a given service than the status quo. If they’re right, and the program meets certain expectations—in this case the benchmarks for success are to reduce recidivism by eight percent and increase employment by five percent—the government will have saved money in less prison spending. The government then pays back the investors with its savings. If the program succeeds, investors can earn a return. If it exceeds those goals substantially, investors can get a bigger return, which in this case is capped at 10 percent. The state at no point spends more money than it would have spent incarcerating the 2,000 individuals anyway.
The Pay for Success strategy isn’t just a way to test CEO’s model. It’s a way to bring careful, data-based monitoring of a program’s effect into government spending.

* * *

There are dozens of programs that seek to help people re-enter the community once they’re released from prison. They provide job training and housing assistance and college-preparation classes and counseling. But a lot of people still end up back in prison. About 700,000 individuals are released from prison nationally each year; the national recidivism rate is about 40 percent.

CEO can make a dent in this, its backers say, because it gives its clients something more: a job. Clients come in, go through a week of job-readiness training, and then get a pair of steel-toed boots and a spot on one of CEO’s five-to-seven-person crews. The crews rotate through the city, cleaning courtrooms and performing maintenance on community-college buildings and public-housing properties.

Getting clients back into the workforce, even temporarily, is a key part of CEO’s program, Sam Schaeffer, the executive director of CEO, told me. People who have never worked, or who haven’t worked in decades find themselves furnished with a metro card, a place to be every morning, and a supervisor to report to.

“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,’” he said.


Charles Russell and Wanda Velez (Alana Semuels)

Charles Russell was released from prison 14 months ago, after serving 25 years for murder in the second degree. It wasn’t his first time in prison—he’d previously served four years for drug-related charges. When he was released last year, Russell says it took some time to adjust to the strange changes in society: the people walking down the street who appeared to be talking to themselves but were actually on Bluetooth devices, the people engrossed in their cellphones as they walked. He tried a few re-entry programs when he first got out. None helped him find a job.

Before coming to CEO, Russell had been a finalist for an interview and had been asked about his conviction. When he told her he’d been convicted of murder in the second degree, he said, the potential employer backed off and said her supervisor wouldn’t let her hire him.

A criminal record “is like an elephant in the room, it constantly haunts you,” he told me. When I met him, Russell was dressed in a gray suit with a green striped tie, looking more like a grandfather than someone who had committed a Class A felony. CEO helped him become more confident, he told me. It trained him for job interviews, and helped him figure out how to talk about his conviction, emphasizing his accomplishments and behavioral record in prison, rather than what put him in there. Being back at work after so long “is humbling,” he said. “It keeps you out of trouble and gives you some money to eat with.”

The crews are made up of five to seven people at once, so members can encourage each other and learn from the supervisor, who rates them on how well they cooperate with co-workers, whether they’re on time, how they present themselves, and the effort they make at their jobs. Clients begin by working four days a week, receiving a paycheck at the end of each day, and meet with a counselor every fifth day to talk about their job search and what they need to do to get ready to join the workforce.

Clients receive fewer days of scheduled work after they put in 30 days of work, and top out at 75 days—CEO wants them to know there’s an end date and that they need to find their own job eventually. But it also helps them during that time period. At first, they are counseled to buy some slacks with their first paycheck, and then a tie, and then a button-down shirt, so they have an outfit that they can use for interviews, said Terry Ellis, an account manager at CEO who works directly with clients on their job searches. He coaches them on how to sell themselves and tells them whether they’re using too much slang in interviews.
Wanda Velez, one of the few women going through the CEO program, told me that she practices interviewing in front of a mirror to make sure her shoulders aren’t slumping, as her counselor told her they sometimes did when she got discouraged.

The average time to job placement is three months, Schaeffer told me. After 180 days, 61 percent of participants are still working full-time, after one year, 53 percent are.

But even some time at a paid job can be motivational, Schaeffer said. Charles Russell, for instance, made $15 every two weeks in prison. Now, he makes more than triple that every day. It reminds him that the real world, no matter how tough, is better than inside.

“My worst day out here is better than my best day inside,” he told me.

Being on a crew of people going through the same difficulties as you are is helpful too, Bryant Mack, another client, said. Mack has been out of prison for five months, and is currently living in a homeless shelter. But he still tells people on his crews to keep going.

“Every day it’s a struggle,” he told me. “Some people sink into hopelessness; you have to give them hope.”

A 2012 evaluation by MRDC, a group that evaluates social policies, found that CEO reduced recidivism by 16 to 22 percent and was particularly helpful for people with a high risk of recidivism.

* * *

The idea behind Pay for Success was launched in 2010 in the United Kingdom with the Peterborough social-impact bond. Five foundations invested 5 million pounds to fund intensive support work for people being released from Peterborough prison. Initial results showed the people who had received counseling had 8.4 percent fewer convictions than the control group, indicating that investors will receive a return when the program ends next year.

From there, areas including Massachusetts, New York, Salt Lake City, and Denver launched Pay for Success initiatives. There are currently 50 Pay for Success projects being launched in 10 different countries, said Tracy Palandjian, the chief executive officer and co-founder of Social Finance, a nonprofit that develops Pay for Success partnerships, including the one at CEO. New York State alone has eight projects, channeling almost $100 million to address issues including early-childhood education and homelessness.

“It’s been only five years since we’ve had this tool, yet it’s gotten a lot of people excited about its potential,” Palandjian said.

Investors aren’t necessarily looking for a big payout—in many cases, they won’t get one.

Their motivation is part philanthropy, part a push for government accountability, she said.

Investors want to show the government that it can track whether certain programs are successful, and that using data can lead to big results. “If Pay for Success as a tool could begin to orient the public system towards results, that would be a good thing,” she said.

It may be strange to hear the idea of philanthropists talking about what they want out of an investment, but Palandjian says most philanthropists are looking for a closer evaluation of where their money goes anyway.

“I think there is a frustration that we are spending billions and billions of dollars trying to address social problems without obvious evidence of how the spending is moving the dial in outcomes,” said Jeffrey Liebman, a Harvard professor who established the Social Impact Bond Technical Assistance Lab to help these projects move forward. “There is a hunger for approaches that would help us learn more rapidly evaluate what works.”

CEO’s Pay for Success program sets up a unique partnership between government and service providers that makes both more accountable, Liebman said. Traditionally, the government gives a grant to a non-profit such as CEO, and assumes it will do its job. The CEO project uses government data to evaluate whether the right clients end up at CEO’s offices. If 80 percent of high-risk people coming out of state prison end up at CEO for a few weeks in a row, and then one week, only 65 percent do, stakeholders get on the phone and try to figure out what went wrong, Liebman said.
“I’ve never seen government work with a provider to use real-time data to make a program run better,” he said.

Still, the track record of Pay for Success programs so far is mixed. New York City’s first attempt at a Pay for Success program sought to reduce recidivism among adolescent inmates at Rikers Island. Launched in 2012 and scheduled to run four years, the program was shut down in August after an independent evaluator saw no tangible reductions in recidivism. Another program in Utah that targeted at-risk kindergartners was initially hailed as a success, but experts have since questioned the validity of the data.

Some observers have begun to question the premise of Pay for Success, wondering if social-impact bonds are just a fancy way to outsource government work to the private sector. After all, there’s a difference between what Pete Orszag and John Bridgeland argued in this magazine, that the government should more closely track what works and what doesn’t, and Pay for Success, which asks the private sector to do the work itself, and allows the private sector to reap the benefits.

And using data to measure results can be trying, as the failure of No Child Left Behind showed. With too much hope placed on results, service providers may try to teach to the test, rather than affect meaningful change. It’s no mistake that most of the initial Pay for Success programs have been in criminal justice, where the goals and results are easy to agree upon—reduced recidivism, increased employment—and where state parole and payroll data, rather than tests, will evaluate results.

Still, many of the investors involved in Pay for Success so far are philanthropists who aren’t looking for a big return, but are instead looking to use Big Data to evaluate their investments.

“The accountability is what they like,” Palandjian said.

One of the strange things about Pay for Success is that, if all goes well, it’s not a scalable model. Since there has to be a control group, the projects are always testing one initiative against current practices. If the initiatives prove successful, then the government could adopt them, and investors wouldn’t need to seek data-driven solutions, because they’d all be implemented.

“It will be nirvana, investors won’t get a return, and our organization would cease to exist,” Palandjian said. “That would be great.”

But in the meantime, the Pay for Success model is a good option for non-profits like CEO, who are looking for funding to prove that their model works well. These nonprofits don’t have to worry as much about finding their next government contract in an era of dwindling funds, or about begging the public for donations. If they’re confident their program works, they can turn to the private sector and Pay for Success.

That’s why, for Schaeffer and CEO, participating in Pay for Success was a no-brainer. In the past, he said, there’s been little funding for programs that aim to reduce recidivism. Now, there’s increased recognition nationally “that a criminal history doesn’t entirely define a person or their value as a potential employee,” he said. Pay for Success takes away some of the monetary barriers that have previously existed, at the same time that employers are becoming more willing to hire individuals with criminal records. Now, with the additional data available through the program, reducing recidivism is going to become even more possible, he said.

“Everything is put in place to help us be successful at what we do,” he said. “We want to have evaluation as a continuous tool to get better.”


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Oakland investing millions in projects to help stem violence

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December 9, 2015 Updated: December 9, 2015 5:48pm


Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle

A slew of nonprofits and public agencies will share $6.37 million in taxpayer funding next year to curb violence in Oakland, mostly by providing jobs and social services in neighborhoods that are beset by crime.

The money derives from Measure Z, a parcel tax and parking surcharge that Oakland voters approved in November 2014 to improve public safety. It provides $24 million a year to help staff the Police Department and fund community-based violence-prevention programs. Organizations that competed for funding had to show they would steer youth and young adults into productive lives, while helping break a cycle of violence and trauma in Oakland.

Among the grant recipients was Youth Alive, a group that reaches out to youth in the hospital after they’ve been stabbed or shot, or right after they’ve been released from juvenile hall. It was awarded more than $1 million, the lion’s share of which will go toward a collaboration with Oakland California Youth Outreach, to mediate conflicts that erupt in the streets.

The Mentoring Center secured $620,000 in funds to provide intensive case management and conflict mediation, partly in conjunction with Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice. The Family Violence Law Center was granted $450,000 to help survivors of domestic violence and assist with restraining orders. The Center for Employment Opportunities received $320,000 in job-training funds for young adults, ages 18 to 35.


A protester rides by police during a May Day protest in Oakland, Calif. on Friday, May 1, 2015. Oakland should invest in bicycles for police Doria Neff, the mental health liaison for the Oakland police department, stands in the hallway before giving her presentation on new mental health procedures during the morning lineup in the Oakland police department on April 4th 2013. Neff is leading the charge on changing how the Oakland police respond to and deal with calls relating to the mentally ill. Getting Oaklanders to lay down their guns Miguel A. Mora, 16, gives Izay Payne, 13, some boxing tips at the East Bay Asian Youth Center last month in Oakland. Backers of Measure Z raise specter of police layoffs
Staff from the city’s Human Services Department — which has an arm called Oakland Unite that manages public safety funds — recommended awarding 30 grants in all, allocating the money to 24 nonprofit and public agencies, out of 44 that applied. The City Council approved those awards Tuesday.

Clients from several of the organizations that received funding gave emotional speeches at the council meeting, highlighting the urgency of Measure Z.

“I just got out of prison two weeks ago,” said Tommy Robinson, who had come to advocate for Oakland California Youth Outreach.

Robinson said he’d spent more than a decade behind bars, and the last six years in solitary confinement.

“It was tough going from being isolated to being around people again,” Robinson said, adding that the group had helped him put together a resume and readjust to the outside world.

“Welcome home,” said council President Lynette McElhaney, her voice quavering.

Erin Scott, who heads the Family Violence Law Center, told the council she hopes to use the funding to “connect family violence and community violence more purposefully” — largely by bringing peace to her clients’ homes.

“We know from our work that when we’re able to interrupt family violence, it means more youth grow up without seeing violence in the home,” Scott said. “That impacts future behavior.”

Another speaker, Eric Salazar, said he was helped by the Mentoring Center.

“This is actually the first year that I’ve been able to stay out of jail since I was 18,” Salazar said. “They helped me do that. … Instead of waiting outside for you guys to get to your cars with a gun, I’m here speaking to y’all.”

Rachel Swan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: Twitter: @rachelswan

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Valerie Jarrett Visits CEO


Dear Friends,

A very special thing happened at CEO last week.

A small group of CEO participants, program staff and a New York State parole officer sat down with Senior Advisor to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, at our New York City headquarters.

Following President Obama’s compelling remarks in Newark about reforming criminal justice policy, Ms. Jarrett and her team requested a visit to learn from CEO about what works in reentry and to hear directly from those who know best — our participants. More than a chance to showcase CEO’s program in action, this visit was an opportunity to engage in a meaningful dialogue about building connections between people returning home, their communities, and our country’s economy.

Ms. Jarrett remarked,

“The challenge of reentry is not one that any individual alone can tackle. It takes collective effort and strong organizations to ensure that businesses begin hiring, and that men and women returning home have the skills, confidence and opportunity needed to build a path toward self-sufficiency.”




Over the course of the afternoon, Ms. Jarrett heard from participants such as Enrico, who described whole industries where he had explored employment, but despite his extensive work experience and Bachelor’s degree, his conviction has made it tough to gain traction. She also talked with Deaquan, 19 years old and only 13 days out of prison, about navigating the job market with limited experience or credentials. Parole Officer Sam Salters shared that he has made nearly 500 referrals to CEO to help high-risk men and women begin their journey back to the workforce, and that the process of getting prepared for a job is the same shift in mindset needed to turn lives around.
Despite the clear challenges facing men and women returning from prison, Ms. Jarrett left us with several reasons to be hopeful. The business community, she believed, will increasingly see employment service organizations like CEO as key partners in meeting their workforce needs. Government agencies — local, state, and federal — are beginning to fully embrace opportunities to invest in and grow evidence-based work that prevents recidivism and stimulates the economy. And a fairer, more equitable justice system is something that the entire country — including Congress — is rallying around.

We were honored to host Ms. Jarrett and look forward to opportunities​ to work with leaders across the country to continue supporting people returning home to successfully reenter the job market and reengage in their communities.



All the best,

​Sam Schaeffer
CEO, Center for Employment Opportunities


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What I Said to President Obama



Yesterday, I had the honor of participating in President Obama’s announcementat Rutgers University, Newark on the administration’s prisoner reentry agenda. Before the event, I had an opportunity to meet President Obama.

Here is what I said to him: thank you. I thanked him because the success of CEO’s scaling in the last several years was catalyzed by some of his administration’s signature policies. CEO used ARRA (aka “stimulus fund”) to ​meet the needs of thousands of ​people returning to Albany, Buffalo and Rochester, New York. The Social Innovation Fund propelled our growth into Oklahoma and California; and Pay for Success is helping us build a deeper evidence base at our New York City flagship.

I told the President that CEO had taken these investments and built sustainable operations in 11 cities across four states. And I reaffirmed to him that CEO is committed to more than doubling our impact ​by ​doubling the number of people we will serve over the next five years.

The President’s remarks yesterday gave even more reason for optimism that we can break the cycle of incarceration and poverty. He talked about how criminal justice statistics can be frustrating and make you feel like you need to act. He talked about how unique the bi-partisan consensus is on this issue. And when the President announced new federal resources, he acknowledged that we need to make deeper investments to support the 600,000 men and women coming home each year.

Second Chance

CEO is committed to being part of the reentry solution for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who come home from prison every year. The White House issued a “Fact Sheet” yesterday, recognizing CEO’s commitment to continue to scale our work. All of this country’s momentum on criminal justice reform must be met with comprehensive supports when people come home from prison. Let all of us who are working to see changes made to our justice system remember what’s at stake during the sensitive moments of reentry and resolve that everyone returning from prison will have a bridge home.​​


Sam Schaeffer
CEO, Center for Employment Opportunities

Watch President Obama’s Speech on the Re-entry Process of Formerly Incarcerated Individuals

Read White House’s FACT SHEET: President Obama Announces New Actions to Promote Rehabilitation and Reintegration for the Formerly- Incarcerated


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