A Successful Prisoner Reentry Program Expands

MDRC, January 2016 
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 Hardto-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 CEO program. 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.

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Thriving in an Outcomes Based Market

The Aspen Institute , July 2015

Thriving in an Outcomes Based Market highlights the Center for Employment Opportunities’ (CEO) transition from a “promising” to a “proven” organization, outlining its pathway to becoming a nationally recognized data-driven social service provider. The report tracks the internal changes and external support that predicated CEO’s ability to access PFS funding and other forms of outcomes-based capital.

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Buffalo Economic Impact report

Economic Impact Report, January 2014
By Jeff Conrad

Since opening its doors in Buffalo in 2009, the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) has provided transitional work experience and job placements to over 700 individuals with criminal convictions living in the City of Buffalo. The organization’s commitment to providing immediate, effective and comprehensive employment services to these men and women is essential to building healthy communities and families. The Buffalo Economic Impact Report indicates that CEO’s program provides critical income to City of Buffalo residents who are unemployed and living under the poverty line, particularly those in communities plagued by deep and persistent poverty. In a little over four years of operation, participants have earned over $4 million in total wages from a combination of CEO’s transitional work sites ($565,995) and full time wages ($3,466,596).

These earning are generated primarily by participants who live in zip codes with poverty and unemployment rates far above the local and national averages.

Wages for transitional work generate an immediate economic impact on both individuals and their families upon their release from prison. Earnings accumulated from private sector job placements demonstrate that the program model in Buffalo has a longer-term impact on communities and is successful in filling local labor needs.

A 2012 report showed a high concentration of poverty and unemployment in urban areas of the Buffalo-Niagara Region1. Injecting capital into impoverished and distressed neighborhoods within the City of Buffalo makes our region stronger; both socially and economically.

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Recidivism Effects of the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) Program Vary by Former Prisoners’ Risk of Reoffending

MDRC Report, October 2010
By Janine Zweig, Jennifer Yahner (The Urban Institute) and Cindy Redcross (MDRC)

The New York City-based Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) is a transi­tional jobs program designed to help former prisoners increase longer-term employment and, consequently, reduce recidivism. Interim results from MDRC’s rigorous impact evaluation of CEO show reduced recidivism in both the first and the second year of follow-up. This research brief expands on those results by using regression-based analysis to identify whether CEO had its greatest impact among low-, medium-, or high-risk offenders—with risk levels being defined by participants’ characteristics before random assignment that are associated with recidivism after random assignment. CEO had its strongest reductions in recidivism for former prisoners who were at highest risk of recidivism, for whom CEO reduced the probability of rearrest, the number of rearrests, and the probability of reconviction two years after random assignment. If confirmed by other studies, these findings suggest that the limited resources available to transitional jobs programs for former prisoners should be targeted toward the people at highest risk of recidivating, because they are helped most by this intervention.

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Transitional Jobs: Background, Program Models, and Evaluation Evidence

MDRC Report, February 2010
By Dan Bloom

The budget for the U.S. Department of Labor for Fiscal Year 2010 includes a total of $45 million to support and study transitional jobs. This paper describes the origins of the transitional jobs models that are operating today, reviews the evidence on the effectiveness of this approach and other subsidized employment models, and offers some suggestions regarding the next steps for program design and research. The paper was produced for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services by MDRC as part of the Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ project, which includes two random assignment evaluations of transitional jobs programs. Transitional jobs programs provide temporary, wage-paying jobs, support services, and job placement help to individuals who have difficulty getting and holding jobs in the regular labor market. Although recent evaluation results have raised doubts about whether TJ programs, as currently designed, are an effective way to improve participants’ long-term employment prospects, the studies have also confirmed that TJ programs can be operated at scale, can create useful work opportunities for very disadvantaged people, and can lead to critical indirect impacts such as reducing recidivism among former prisoners. Thus, in drawing lessons from the recent results, the paper argues that it may be important to think more broadly about the goals of TJ programs while simultaneously testing new strategies that may produce better long-term employment outcomes.

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CEO’s Young Adult Program: Engaging Formerly Incarcerated Young People in the Workforce

CEO Report, October 2007
By Alana Gunn and Julie Peterson.

The report introduces CEO’s Young Adult Program in the context of the nationwide crisis of disconnected youth—young people neither in work or school. CEO’s Young Adult Program addresses this issue by engaging 18–25 year olds coming home from prison or jail with a specialized version of CEO’s comprehensive work program. The program, like CEO’s regular programming, offers immediate, paid transitional work concurrently with placement into permanent employment, but offers extra support and coaching, and helps young people with little work experience and less maturity ease in to the workplace. CEO, through a series of qualitative and quantitative analysis, found that Young Adult Program participants worked more days of transitional work, and were placed in permanent jobs at a higher rate than young adults of the same age at CEO who were not part of the program.

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Four Strategies to Overcome Barriers to Employment: An Introduction to the Enhanced Services fro the Hard-to-Employ Demonstration and Evaluation Project

MDRC Report, October 2007
By Dan Bloom, Cindy Redcross, JoAnn Hsueh, Sarah Rich, Vanessa Martin

This first report in the Hard-to-Employ evaluation describes the origin of the project and the rationale for the demonstration, the research design, and the four programs and the characteristics of their participants. Because the programs are so diverse, the Hard-to-Employ project can be seen as four distinct but related studies.

  • A comprehensive employment program for former prisoners in New York City;
  • A two-generation Early Head Start program in Kansas and Missouri that provides enhanced self-sufficiency services and skills training to parents, in addition to high-quality child care;
  • Two alternative employment strategies for long-term welfare recipients in Philadelphia: one that emphasizes services to assess and treat recipients’ barriers to employment, and another that places recipients in paid transitional employment; and
  • An intensive telephonic care management program for Medicaid recipients in Rhode Island who are experiencing serious depression.

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CEO’s Rapid Rewards Program: Using Incentives to Promote Employment Retention for Formerly Incarcerated Individuals

CEO Report, August 2007
By Jennifer L. Bryan, Alana Gunn and Stephanie Henthorn.

CEO began an employment incentive program called Rapid Rewards in 2004. As participants are placed in jobs, they can bring their paystubs to CEO each month for up to a year and receive incentives of public transportation fare cards, supermarket vouchers and, at the end of the year, a check. The total value of the rewards is $615 per year. In 2006–2007, CEO evaluated the Rapid Rewards program using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods. This paper presents its findings for a general audience. In sum, CEO found that participation in the Rapid Rewards program predicted continued employment at 90, 180 and 365 days after job placement. There are two possible explanations for the effect–that the rewards themselves entice people to stay employed, or that the rewards enable an organization to better track people so that it can report more instances of employment retention at various milestones. Both argue for the benefits of a retention incentive system.

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