Prisoners and the Job Market: Should employers know about criminal records?


DION got his first paying job at 14—which would be admirable, except that he was selling crack cocaine. He spent much of his early adulthood bouncing between prison and the streets of Yonkers, in New York state. Then, a few months out of one four-year spell behind bars, he discovered Greyston, a 35-year-old bakery. Founded by a Jewish engineer-turned-Buddhist monk, Greyston practices “non-judgment”. To get a job, people need only provide their names and telephone numbers, and turn up on time when a vacancy arises.

Most companies are far more discerning, particularly when it comes to people like Dion. Perhaps half of America’s private-sector employers ask job applicants to declare their criminal records, and two-thirds routinely run checks before taking people on. They see it as necessary due diligence. Unfortunately, checks that individual firms believe to be prudent are collectively bad for the 7m Americans who have spent time in prison and the 70m with a criminal record—numbers that may increase if Jeff Sessions, the hardline attorney-general, pushes through tougher sentencing rules. Keeping convicts away from jobs may also be harming America.


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The Simple Act of REALLY Listening

By Nate Mandel, CEO Program Innovation Associate

Listening is one of the most important skills associated with effective leaders and employees. This simple act builds trust and empathy with clients and often leads to much more effective outcomes. So why is listening one of the most overlooked skill sets in business and nonprofits? My colleagues and I at the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), a national nonprofit that helps returning citizens develop the necessary skills and confidence to find and retain employment, recognized this was a place for improvement and set out to build a listening culture – one that makes listening a cornerstone of everything we do. This past week we celebrated our success at the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) conference in Boston, MA.

In front of a packed audience with standing room only, three CEO graduates, Antoine Ragland, Warren Sanders, and Luis Fonseca, accompanied by CEO staffer Christine Kidd, Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF) Director of Program Strategy Jehan Velji and  Fay Twersky, Director of the Effective Philanthropy Group and the Hewlett Foundation, shared their experiences at CEO. Antoine, Warren and Luis all provided critical feedback to CEO employees that helped CEO staff better understand client experiences and informed changes we made to improve the client experience for everyone. This feedback loop is part of an organization wide project called Constituent Voice in which CEO systematically seeks feedback from clients through text messages, in person focus groups and anonymous surveys.


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CEO’s Gary Damon Envisions a More Prosperous Buffalo

by Gary Damon, CEO Buffalo’s County Director

In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Byron Brown announced a new partnership with my organization, the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), to rehabilitate 62 vacant and abandoned city-owned properties while providing job training to formerly incarcerated Buffalo residents.

CEO is a nonprofit organization that employs formerly incarcerated individuals, provides them with work experience and training, and then helps them find and retain full-time employment. This partnership shows how local government can work with community-based organizations to address mass incarceration and recidivism while providing tangible economic benefits to our community.


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CEO Buffalo Participants Clean Up Government-Owned Housing

Workers from the Center for Employment Opportunities, who are either on parole or probation, clean up a vacant lot on East Ferry Street in a contract with the city, Thursday, March 9, 2017. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

By Deidre Williams

The City of Buffalo recently obtained 33 vacant and run-down houses at a foreclosure auction that out-of-town landlords had all but abandoned.

Now, the city is getting ready to fix up the properties so they can be sold.

But instead of assigning city employees to the task, or hiring a construction firm, the city is turning to an organization that employs men and women just released from prison and jail.

If, as expected, the Common Council authorizes the Brown administration’s plan, the city will spend as much as $300,000 over the next two years to clean and fix the vacant houses. Ex-convicts transitioning back to society will do the work. Each participant earns $84.95 daily for 6 1/2 hours of work.

Read the full article at >

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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 is 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 Opportunities, the country’s leading re-entry program that has helped more than 20,000 people find jobs upon release from prison

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.


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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.


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


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?


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Social Enterprises as a Solution to Inequality


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.


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


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.


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