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Center for Employment Opportunities Reentry Report 2006

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The Power of Work
The Center for Employment Opportunities
Comprehensive Prisoner Reentry Program
Written in collaboration
between CEO and MDRC



Center for Employment Opportunities
Neighborhood Work Project
Vocational Development Program




The Power of Work
The Center for Employment Opportunities
Comprehensive Prisoner Reentry Program
Written in collaboration
between CEO and MDRC
March 2006





Introduction: The Need to Employ People Coming Home from Prison


The Problem: The Link Between Unemployment and Recidivism


A Promising Solution: A Comprehensive Employment Program from
Transitional to Full-Time Jobs


The CEO Program Model


The Philosophy Behind the Model: The “CEO CPs”


The Four Phases of the Model


Recruitment, Intake, and Pre-Employment Classes


Paid Transitional Employment: The Neighborhood Work Project (NWP)


Job Coaching, Development, and Placement


Ongoing and Post-Placement Support


The Foundations of CEO: Keys to Successful Implementation


Positive Relationships with Key Stakeholders: The Importance of Mutual Benefits


A Self-Supporting Financial Infrastructure


Strong Operating Systems and Staff Structure


Building on CEO’s Promise
Case Studies: Adapting CEO’s Model for Use in Other Jurisdictions
or with Other Populations



TPCETC (Tacoma, Washington): Helping to Build Momentum and
Buy-In for Transitional Work


Roca (Chelsea, Massachusetts): Creating an Internal Service Fund
to Support Transitional Employment for an At-Risk Population


WorkOut by Pecan (London, UK): Using CEO’s Model to Secure
Funding for an International Project


Case Study Lessons
Further Information



This report and the associated how-to manuals were produced by MDRC and CEO, with the
generous support of the JEHT Foundation. On behalf of the line staff and managers who
have established these protocols, and of past, present, and future participants who have felt
the power of work change their lives, CEO gratefully acknowledges the JEHT Foundation’s
confidence in CEO’s model.
Dissemination of MDRC publications is supported by the following funders that help finance
MDRC’s public policy outreach and expanding efforts to communicate the results and implications of our work to policymakers, practitioners, and others: Alcoa Foundation, The
Ambrose Monell Foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies, Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation,
Open Society Institute, and The Starr Foundation. In addition, earnings from the MDRC
Endowment help sustain our dissemination efforts. Contributors to the MDRC Endowment
include Alcoa Foundation, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Anheuser-Busch Foundation,
Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Ford Foundation, The
George Gund Foundation, The Grable Foundation, The Lizabeth and Frank Newman
Charitable Foundation, The New York Times Company Foundation, Jan Nicholson, Paul H.
O’Neill Charitable Foundation, John S. Reed, The Sandler Family Supporting Foundation, and
The Stupski Family Fund, as well as other individual contributors.
The findings and conclusions in this report do not necessarily represent the official positions or policies of the funders.

Copyright © 2006 by the Center for Employment Opportunities and MDRC. All rights reserved.

Design by Van Gennep Design, New York.
Photographs courtesy of the Center for Employment Opportunities. Cover photo by Harvey Wang.


The New York City-based Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) targets a group facing particularly long odds — former prisoners who are returning to the community. High
unemployment and recidivism rates for returning prisoners suggest that the first step in
beating the odds is helping these men and women find gainful and steady employment.
CEO uses an innovative transitional employment model: Participants are quickly placed in
jobs with CEO work crews and are paid each day for the hours they work. Meanwhile, CEO
staff provide job coaching, link participants with regular jobs, and follow up after placement
to promote long-term job retention. Since becoming an independent nonprofit organization
in 1996, CEO has emerged as one the nation’s largest and best-known employment programs targeting former prisoners.
MDRC began working with CEO in 2003 through the Enhanced Services for the Hard-toEmploy project, a multi-site study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services. Through this project, MDRC, with assistance from the Urban Institute, is conducting a large-scale random assignment evaluation of CEO’s core program.
With interest in prisoner reentry strategies surging across the country, CEO has received
numerous inquiries about how to replicate its program model. MDRC and CEO have jointly produced a set of related technical assistance products both to respond to this interest
and to deepen our understanding of how CEO operates: this overview document, which is
available in printed form and via MDRC’s and CEO’s Web sites, and three detailed manuals describing specific elements of CEO’s approach. The manuals are available on request
from CEO. We expect these materials, which have been made possible by the generous support of the JEHT Foundation, to have a practical value for the burgeoning field of prisoner
reentry while also helping MDRC researchers explain how and why CEO affects the lives of
the people it serves.
The vicious cycle of incarceration, release, and recidivism faced by too many former prisoners has devastating effects on families, communities, and public budgets. We are fortunate to have this opportunity to work with CEO to produce and disseminate information on
an innovative and promising program model.

Gordon L. Berlin
MDRC President


The Need to
Employ People
Coming Home
from Prison

— CEO Participant

Photo by Harvey Wang

Showing up for work every day . . .
just using it as a stepping stone to get
where I want to be . . . has helped me
a lot. . . . I can’t say that enough.

States and localities across the United States are feeling the aftereffects of a 25-year incarceration binge. In a period of just 15 years, from 1980 to 1995, the number of people incarcerated in federal and state prisons and local jails more than tripled, from about 500,000
to more than 1.5 million. Today, more than 2 million people are behind bars nationwide.
Since almost all prisoners are eventually released, an incarceration boom necessarily translates into a reentry boom. In fact, more than 600,000 people are released from prison each
year.1 Unfortunately, most end up back in the criminal justice system before long. With state
and local budgets strained by the high cost of incarceration, breaking the cycle of recidivism
is one promising way to shrink the prison population — as well as to increase public safety
and to improve the well-being of former prisoners, their families, and their communities.


Ex-prisoners face a daunting set of obstacles to reentry, but securing employment may be
the biggest challenge of all. The unemployment rate of formerly incarcerated people one
year after release may be as high as 60 percent,2 and there is an increasing reluctance

among employers to hire people with criminal histories. Further, studies show that inmates
reentering communities are most vulnerable to failure in the early stages after release from
jail or prison. Since the late 1970s, New York City’s Center for Employment Opportunities
(CEO) has addressed the relationship between work and crime. Through a highly structured
program of pre-employment training, immediate short-term transitional employment, and
full-time job placement services, CEO helps close to 2,000 men and women each year to take
the crucial first steps toward staying out of prison and returning to their families and communities.3 MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, is conducting a rigorous

The Power of Work

How-To Manuals

The set of manuals, Opportunities, Challenges, & Practical Solutions, is available on request from CEO and is intended for
jurisdictions or agencies that are interested in starting an employment program for people returning from prison or for similarly disadvantaged populations. The following three manuals provide information needed to replicate CEO’s model in full
or in part:
• Volume I, Recruitment, Intake, and Transitional Employment for Those with Criminal Records
• Volume II, Job Coaching and Job Development for Those with Criminal Records
• Volume III, Executive and Financial Guide for Building a Transitional Work Program for Those with Criminal Records
An additional technical document details the management information system that holds the transitional work program together:
• CEO’s Management Information Systems: Business Rules and Process Flows for Participant Intake and Worksite Scheduling and

evaluation of CEO’s program as part of a multi-site project funded by the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Labor. Results from this study
are expected by 2007.
With generous support from the JEHT Foundation and in collaboration with MDRC, CEO
has created Opportunities, Challenges, & Practical Solutions, a set of manuals that detail all
aspects of the program model (see box above). This overview document introduces the
manuals. First, it discusses the link between unemployment and recidivism. Second, it lays
out the “what” of the program: CEO’s company philosophy and the four phases of the CEO
program. Then it discusses the “how” of the program: how it came to be, how it appeals to
key stakeholders (including government agencies and private employers), and how its
financial and organizational structures keep it strong. The document concludes with case
studies to illustrate early examples of how CEO’s model is being replicated and adapted for
use in other jurisdictions or with other populations.


The Problem:
The Link Between
and Recidivism
For the more than 600,000 people returning home to their communities each year after
serving state prison sentences, finding a job is among their top priorities. In addition to
wanting to prove themselves and to support their families, they are often mandated to
“seek, obtain and maintain employment” by the agencies that supervise them after release.4
Yet formerly incarcerated people face significant and multiple barriers to employment.
Many people lack basic education and occupational skills, have limited or no work history,
and can call on minimal family and community support systems. Further, a large proportion are members of racial and ethnic groups that experience employment discrimination.
For instance, from 2000 to 2003, unemployment among black men in New York City
increased 12.2 percent, compared with a 2.1 percent increase among white men.5
Furthermore, only 60.7 percent of the city’s black men were employed at the end of 2004.6
Then there are the direct effects of incarceration: Studies have shown that employers consider individuals with criminal records to be among the least desirable job applicants.7
Further, many states have enacted laws that prohibit people with prior convictions from
working in certain jobs.8
Not surprisingly, most people returning from prison do not succeed. Failure often occurs
quickly, generally within the first months after release from prison.9 National statistics show
that fully two-thirds of all those who are released from prison will be rearrested within three
years. Moreover, more than 50 percent will return to prison or jail in that period.
There is little doubt that unemployment contributes to the cycle of incarceration of
parolees. In New York State, for example, labor statistics show that 89 percent of people
who violate the terms of their probation or parole are unemployed at the time of violation.10
While the relationship between crime and unemployment is complex — many employed
people also commit crimes — most studies agree that higher levels of earnings are associated with lower levels of criminal activity. If unemployment is strongly linked to reincarceration, employing formerly incarcerated people could play an important role in breaking the


What would happen if, instead of
meeting immediate barriers to
employment, people coming home
from prison or jail were offered
immediate paid transitional work?

Photo by Harvey Wang

A Promising Solution:
A Comprehensive
Program from
Transitional to
Full-Time Jobs

The Vera Institute of Justice created CEO as a demonstration project in the late 1970s to test
this very idea: What would happen if, instead of meeting immediate barriers to employment,
people coming home from prison or jail were offered immediate paid transitional work? The
demonstration project ultimately evolved into CEO’s signature Neighborhood Work Project
(NWP). Through NWP, CEO becomes the first employer of people leaving prison: CEO pays
them daily, at minimum wage, to work on crews that provide maintenance, landscaping, and
light construction and demolition to government agencies. CEO does not stop at providing this
transitional employment; while participants work on NWP crews, CEO’s skill-building and job
placement services help them move into permanent, unsubsidized, higher-paying employment. Since becoming an independent nonprofit organization in 1996, CEO has provided comprehensive employment services to many thousands of felony offenders under community
supervision and has placed more than 8,500 people in unsubsidized employment.


The CEO model is characterized as follows.
• Immediate work, immediate pay: Within one week of enrollment, all program graduates
have undergone a battery of surveys designed to assess their skill levels and match them
to appropriate jobs, received four days of pre-employment training and job search preparation, met for an objective and in-depth one-on-one interview with an employment specialist, been assigned to a transitional work crew, and received a paycheck at the end of
their first day’s work.
• Comprehensive services: Transitional employment is only a means to achieving the ultimate mission: placing participants in meaningful, full-time, unsubsidized jobs. As a
result, all clients who are enrolled in transitional work simultaneously receive job placement and retention services through CEO’s Vocational Development Program (VDP). All
clients are assigned a job coach, whose responsibility it is to provide support during the
employment search and to help clients gain the skills needed to become “job-ready.”
Once job-ready, participants meet weekly with an employment specialist until they are
placed in unsubsidized jobs. In addition to providing direct job placement support, VDP
specialists also maintain alliances with organizations that specialize in areas unrelated to
employment but critical to clients’ success — such as outpatient drug treatment and
Over time, CEO has come to recognize the importance of integrating other services into
its transitional work model, to further support clients as they move into the workforce and
community life. Examples include occupational skill-building in targeted industries that
provide opportunities for formerly incarcerated people to pursue employment and career
advancement; assistance in reconnecting clients with dependent children, including
meeting child support obligations and other parental responsibilities; and personal skills
development in areas crucial to success, such as conflict management and interpersonal communication.
• Balanced commitments: CEO’s goal is to allow formerly incarcerated people to work and
meet multiple other commitments simultaneously. Immediately after their release, participants are generally overwhelmed with expected and required commitments, such as
reporting to their assigned parole officer, meeting such obligations as child support,
attending drug treatment and similar programs, and fulfilling other necessary engagements and responsibilities. CEO provides clients with pre-employment training and
immediate paid employment that is flexible enough to allow them to balance work and
their other commitments in the community.
• …With a focus on customer service: One of the cornerstones of CEO’s approach is its emphasis on customer service. In order to reach a unified goal, each department strives to satisfy
its customer base. While the job coach’s direct customer is the CEO participant, the employment specialist’s customer is the employer searching for employees, and the work crew staff
are responsible for completing the assigned work to the satisfaction of the facility.


According to CEO-collected outcome data, CEO’s model has successfully moved recently
incarcerated people into permanent jobs. In an average year, 60 percent of clients who are

matched with a job developer are placed in such jobs.11 And CEO’s analyses reveal that
clients who are employed are less likely to return to prison. Of those who were not placed
in jobs, 51 percent were reincarcerated within three years in New York State Department of
Correctional Services facilities, mirroring the national average. Yet of clients who were
placed in a job, only 30 percent returned to prison, and only 12 percent returned for a new
crime (the rest returned for technical parole violations). People who held on to that job for
one month returned to prison at a rate of 24 percent, while those who were employed for
six months returned at a rate of only 13 percent.12 The federally funded evaluation of CEO
that MDRC is conducting is designed to provide definitive evidence about the program’s
effects. The study is using a random assignment design that will compare the outcomes for
program participants with a control group of similar people who do not participate in CEO’s
transitional work and job development programs but may receive access to a staffed job
resource room to assist them in searching for jobs.


The CEO
Program Model
The Philosophy Behind the Model: The “CEO CPs”
Employers consistently report to CEO that what they value most in potential employees are
punctuality, a strong work ethic, good communication, and other “soft skills.” Because these
qualities and skills can help overcome the stigma of a criminal record, CEO’s model is organized around building and reinforcing them from the moment that participants enter the program. At orientation and during the following week of pre-employment classes, participants are
introduced to the “CEO CPs” — an abbreviation that is formed by the first letters of the five
workplace behaviors described in the accompanying box about the CEO company philosophy.
These behaviors are the cornerstone of participants’ success throughout their working lives.

Photo by Harvey Wang

Because … skills can help
overcome the stigma of a criminal
record, CEO’s model is organized
around building and reinforcing
them from the moment that
participants enter the program.
As the CEO CPs are being taught in the
classroom, they are also being learned
on the Neighborhood Work Project
worksites. When performing work in
NWP teams each day under the guidance of a supervisor, participants experience — sometimes for the first time in their lives — what it means to get to work on time, to take direction
from a supervisor, to be an appreciated co-worker, to work steadily throughout the workday,
and to express themselves to their supervisor and co-workers effectively and respectfully.
Through such “experiential learning,” participants begin to change their workplace behavior.


This change in behavior is measured, every day. First, job coaches complete a Job Readiness
Information Tool (or J-RIT) to get a baseline of each participant’s job readiness. The behaviors that

are captured in the J-RIT are tied to the CEO CPs and continue to be evaluated each day through
the “Passport to Success” (see page 15), a portable evaluation tool that the participant brings to
the worksite. The Passport describes the behaviors associated with each of the CEO CPs and has
a place for the site supervisor to rate the participant’s daily performance of each behavior, using a
scale from 0 to 2 (with 0 being below average, 1 meeting standards, and 2 exceeding standards).
Since CEO instituted the Passport in 2005, staff have noticed the difference that such daily feedback has on participants’ level of engagement: They strive to earn a 2 and do not like getting a 0.
Meanwhile, job coaches use the Passport to determine when a participant is ready to see an
employment specialist. In turn, employment specialists use the daily evaluations to market participants to employers. By reviewing the Passport, they can give employers concrete examples of
how the participant is now demonstrating the workforce behaviors that employers are seeking.

The Four Phases of the Model
CEO’s programming proceeds in four parts that are designed to move participants toward
full-time unsubsidized employment. These phases are discussed in greater detail in the set
of manuals, Opportunities, Challenges, & Practical Solutions.

The CEO Company Philosophy
(the CEO CPs)




Cooperation with Supervisor: Follows policies, rules, and directions from supervisor with respectful attitude; asks constructive questions; takes responsibility to get things done well; maintains focus on objectives while dealing with distractions; exhibits ability to complete work independently.
Effort at Work: Stays constructively busy; is willing to do extra work; responds quickly to instruction; shows initiative; takes
action to achieve quality results; seeks ways to maximize performance; meets deadlines and achieves productivity standards.
On time: Is ready to work at start time (in the morning and after breaks); works up until scheduled dismissal time; gives
supervisor advance notice in the event that time off is needed; avoids excessive absences from work.
Cooperation with Co-Workers: Is a team worker, helpful, and works toward a common goal; has a positive outlook; sets
his or her own achievements in the context of the larger group goal — offers to help others when tasks are completed
ahead of schedule.
Personal Presentation: Communicates positively (both verbally and nonverbally) and is an active listener; has good physical energy; dresses appropriately; makes eye contact; smiles — shows a friendly face; presents self in a confident manner;
conveys ideas clearly and organizes thoughts well; uses the appropriate communication style for a workplace setting —
can express self without the use of profanity or street-isms even when angry or upset.

• Recruitment, intake, and pre-employment classes: After participants are recruited into the
program, they engage in intensive classroom-based pre-employment training for four days.
• Paid transitional employment occurs four days per week after completion of training.
• Job coaching, development, and placement services are offered by trained vocational
specialists one day per week.
• Ongoing and post-placement support begins when a participant starts the CEO program and continues after placement in a job, for up to 12 months.


Recruitment, Intake, and Pre-Employment Classes
CEO participants are referred directly to the program by the New York State prison system.
Approximately 40 percent of CEO’s clients are New York City-bound Shock Incarceration parolees
who are mandated to report to CEO on release.13 The remaining 60 percent of participants are
referrals from parole officers, who learn of the program through the efforts of CEO’s recruitment
unit. Recruiters visit parole bureaus to educate parole officers about the value of CEO’s comprehensive services — from immediate transitional work to job placement. If parolees call or come
to CEO directly, they are asked to obtain a referral from their parole officer before being accepted
into the program.

Photo by Harvey Wang

CEO excludes very few people from its program. A participant must be able physically and mentally to perform the functions required on transitional worksites. All but the most serious violent
offenders are accepted.14
There are no skill, educational, or attitudinal
requirements. Less than
40 percent of the target
Development (GED) certificate or a high school
diploma. The Test of
Adult Basic Education
(TABE) is administered at
intake; average reading
and math scores range
from sixth to seventh
Once recruited into the
program, participants
must have documentation to prove that they can
work in the United States — CEO is, after all, their employer of record. CEO is adept at assisting
participants in securing this documentation, especially proof of a Social Security number.


The participant’s first week in CEO takes place in the classroom, where the process of building
self-confidence about work begins. One of the crucial components of pre-employment training is
a module in which participants learn and practice how to answer questions about their convictions
while on interviews for permanent positions. Participants also engage in interactive exercises to
improve their decision making, goal setting, verbal/nonverbal communication, and interview
skills. The exercises are designed to complement the on-the-job training that clients receive during their first transitional work experience. On successful completion of pre-employment training,
each participant is assigned to a work crew and given a scheduled appointment day for the following week to come to CEO’s main offices and begin the search for permanent employment.

Paid Transitional Employment:
The Neighborhood Work Project (NWP)
NWP participants are assigned to work crews for four days each week, providing maintenance
and repair services, groundskeeping and landscaping, and minor construction and demolition
for government facilities and other public entities. Participants are paid the New York State
minimum wage, every day, for a seven-hour workday. The NWP experience helps people develop marketable work habits and skills, along with the self-esteem associated with having
money for daily expenses. To ensure that participants’ other commitments can be met during
the week, NWP also offers flexible scheduling (for example, either day or evening work).

Passport to Success


(CEO CPs):





More than 15 minutes
late, always has




On time (less than
15 minutes late),
rarely has excuses



On time (arrives
before start time),
comes without

C O O P E R AT I O N W I T H C O - W O R K E R S
Works well with
others; operates
effectively as part of a
productive team and
exhibits leadership

Gets into conflicts
with c0-workers;
does not demonstrate ability to work
with a team

Is cooperative with
others and works
well with team

Consistently acts
inappropriately and
does not correct
behavior when
identified; negative
example for others

Corrects inappropriate Demonstrates
behaviors when
positive workplace
behavior when
difficult situations
arise; acts as a
positive role model
for others

Is uncooperative;
shows disrespect
for authority
Does not respond to
instruction or assistance;
listens poorly




Establishes a positive
work relationship with
supervisor; employee
you can count on
Demonstrates a basic Asks the right questions
understanding after to gain a full underreceiving instruction; standing; can teach
listens well
Is cooperative and
cordial with the

Shows little interest
or effort; unproductive,
needs constant
attention to stay busy

Consistently does
what is required,
follows up on work
opportunities when
presented; keeps busy

Does more than
required for the job,
volunteers/asks for
extra work when task
is complete; always
busy; seeks feedback

Complains about
what he/she is
getting from the
job/program; tends
to blame rather than
take responsibility
for circumstances

Takes things as they
come; takes responsibility for his/her

Takes a proactive
stance to get what
he/she needs from
the job/program;
shows a strong drive
and looks for opportunities to take on
more responsibility

Expresses no
appreciation for
making a difference;
does not value work

Expresses some
satisfaction in
making a visible
difference as a result
of his/her work efforts

Expresses great
satisfaction in visible
improvements that
have resulted from
his/her work efforts


0 = Does Not Meet Expectations
1 = Meets Expectations
2 = Exceeds Expectations

Does not meet
CEO guidelines for
dress; has unkempt
appearance; exhibits
disrespectful speech

Dresses according
to CEO guidelines;
looks clean; speaks

Is well groomed;
speaks respectfully;
communicates well
with others; high

Site Supervisor Signature:
(Job Coach/Job Developer)

Job Coaching, Development, and Placement
Participants meet first with a job coach during their week of pre-employment training, and
they get an in-depth assessment, including an employment and social history, a review of
their interests and goals, risk factors and barriers to employment, and other personal data
relevant to developing a vocational plan. Job coaches also complete the Job Readiness
Information Tool (J-RIT) at this time, to get a baseline level of each participant’s job readiness. Generally within two weeks of beginning transitional work, a participant’s job coach will
determine whether he is job-ready, based on the daily Passport to Success evaluations and
interaction with the client — and with the site supervisor when necessary. Job-ready participants meet with CEO’s staff of experienced employment specialists, who help connect par-


CEO’s employment specialists work with over
150 private sector companies. There is a range of
industries, but the majority of clients are placed
in customer service, food service, office support,
manufacturing, and semi-skilled trade jobs.
Employment specialists strive to place clients in
jobs that offer competitive wages, fringe benefits, and career growth opportunities. Placement
wages range from the minimum wage to $30 per
hour, and wages at first placement depend primarily on the participant’s prior work experience
and skill level. The average wage is $8 per hour.

Photo by Harvey Wang

ticipants with jobs that are suited to their individual interests, skills, and abilities while also
ensuring that those jobs are consistent with
labor market trends and conviction histories.

Ongoing and Post-Placement Support
CEO has created program elements that provide additional support for clients while they
are in the program and afterward. Examples of such programming are the Responsible
Fatherhood Program, Occupational Skill Building, and the Rapid Rewards Program.


• The Responsible Fatherhood Program. CEO’s population is 90 percent male, and the majority are fathers. Slightly less than half of CEO’s participants have some form of child support
order or are being sought by the child support enforcement system. To assist participants in
reestablishing ties with their children after incarceration and to navigate the child support system, CEO created the Responsible Fatherhood Program. The program helps fathers modify
child support payments to an amount that they can pay, in accordance with the size of their
paychecks; provides values-driven workshops that stress parenting skills; and hosts events to
encourage parental bonding.
• Occupational Skill Building. CEO offers selected clients two short-term courses —
Information Services and Customer Service — that are designed to teach hard skills that
are useful across a spectrum of industries and job titles. Information Services provides
basic instruction in using a computer; Customer Service provides training that helps
clients learn how to work with customers in fast-paced, relationship-driven environments,
such as restaurants and supermarkets.
• Rapid Rewards Program. As noted above, the longer that CEO participants remain
employed, the less likely they are to return to prison. This relationship between job retention and reduced criminal activity suggests a need for effective employment retention
strategies. CEO’s newly established Rapid Rewards Program provides incentives to participants who remain employed at 30-day milestones, for up to a year after placement.
The incentives are tied to the needs of working people who are trying to make ends meet
on an entry-level salary, such as transportation and supermarket vouchers. Finally, CEO
is intensifying its post-placement counseling efforts to influence longer-term attachment
to the labor market.

The Foundations of
CEO: Keys to
CEO applicants are better
dressed, more courteous, and
generally, better prepared.
Photo by Harvey Wang

— Pathmark Customer Service Manager

CEO has identified three principal keys to successful program implementation: (1) building
positive relationships with key stakeholders, including the criminal justice system, city and
state agencies that hire CEO work crews, and private employers who use CEO as a human
resources service; (2) developing an innovative and self-supporting financial structure; and
(3) creating strong operating systems and staff structures. Each is described briefly below
(and expanded upon in the how-to manuals available from CEO).

Positive Relationships with Key Stakeholders: The
Importance of Mutual Benefits
CEO has developed a number of close, positive relationships with its key stakeholders, and
these relationships have been crucial. They were formed when CEO stepped in to provide a
critical program element — post-release employment — to an important New York State
initiative: the creation of Shock Incarceration programs, or boot camps, to reduce prison
crowding in the late 1980s.


In the late 1980s, New York’s economy was in decline, and budget reductions were required
throughout the state. Prisons were crowded as a result of mandatory sentencing laws and
changes in drug enforcement policies. The cost of housing inmates was forcing reductions in
other critical service areas, such as education and health care. Partly in response to these pressures, the governor authorized the creation of boot camps for non-violent inmates — a program that became known as “Shock Incarceration.” The program served several needs. First, it
provided a way to decrease the demand for new prisons during an economically stressful period; early release would reduce the average prison stay to six months. Second, early release
would be publicly acceptable, given widespread approval of the military aspects of boot camps.
CEO was then under the management of the Vera Institute of Justice and had been in existence
since the late 1970s, providing day-labor opportunities for people recently released from prison.
But CEO and the New York State Division of Parole saw an opportunity to enhance the new Shock
Incarceration program by providing CEO’s services (immediate transitional work and longer-term
job development) to all graduates of the program. Without aftercare — and employment as a critical component — there would be a greater likelihood that Shock Incarceration graduates would
return to prison, offsetting the beds and dollars that would be saved through early release. New
York’s Executive Director of Parole and the New York State Budget Office made the case for the
CEO program and met with the heads of other state agencies to secure support for its work crews.
As a result, CEO’s current program structure was created: CEO became the managing agent for
the Division of Parole’s transitional employment services for all boot camp graduates, and a financial structure was created within the division’s budget to receive and distribute work crew revenue
from the various government agencies that received and paid for work crew services.15
The Division of Parole has remained among the strongest of CEO’s key stakeholders because the
two continue to benefit each other. Parole officers appreciate that CEO provides immediate, paid
work for the people under their supervision and that it helps them secure permanent jobs. In
turn, CEO understands that its participants have obligations to the Division of Parole: reporting
to their parole officers, participating in such programs as substance abuse treatment, and keeping a curfew. CEO is mindful of these obligations and organizes its program operations so that
they do not conflict — for example, by offering day and evening worksites and by placing participants in jobs that do not conflict with their other obligations. Partnering with the Division of
Parole ensures that CEO receives a steady stream of clients, and it also permits parole officers
to visit CEO’s classrooms and worksites, to motivate clients to participate fully in the program.
Mutual benefit fuels the relationship between CEO and another set of key stakeholders: the city and
state agencies for which CEO’s work crews perform services. These include multiple sites of the City
University of New York, the city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services (which maintains
the courthouses and other large public facilities), and the Department of Transportation. For these
agencies, CEO provides a reliable, productive, and flexible labor pool at a competitive cost that —
because of a unique financial arrangement (described below) — allows work to be performed that
otherwise would remain uncompleted because of lengthy procurement processes. In turn, CEO
gains sites at which its clients can get work experience and earn a daily paycheck.


Other key stakeholders are private employers who use CEO as their own (free) human resources
department. These employers value CEO’s screening of applicants, which reduces the burden on the

staff involved in hiring. The employers know that CEO candidates, during their time in NWP, have
already demonstrated such basic workplace skills as punctuality and the ability to follow instructions.
MariLou Schmidt, a Customer Service Manager for Pathmark, sums up the employers’ perspective:
“CEO applicants are better dressed, more courteous, and generally, better prepared.”
Once CEO participants are hired, the program’s employment specialists monitor job performance through regular site visits and other post-placement services that keep the employer satisfied; staff respond promptly to employers’ requests and concerns. Further, for employers who
hire formerly incarcerated people, CEO insures its participants for up to $25,000 under the federal bonding program, at no cost to the employer. Employers can also take advantage of a variety of tax incentives, including the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) and the Empowerment
Zone Employment Tax Credit (EZ ETC). CEO handles all the paperwork, at no additional cost.

Success: A Client’s Perspective
Donal Farley, CEO’s champion at the City University of New York, attributes the program’s early success with the
CUNY system to four factors:
• The supervision and responsiveness of CEO’s management. A constant throughout the program has been the availability of
CEO’s Director of Field Operations, the Director of Transitional Services, and, if necessary, the Executive Director to
smooth over any difficulties that arise on the worksites. The relationships with each of the CUNY colleges began with a
meeting between one or two of these CEO managers and the school’s Vice President for Administration.
• The easy access to the program via reduced paperwork and bureaucracy. The CEO program has never added paperwork or
hassle to the school’s already heavy administrative burden. Thus, a key to success is targeting a network of government
agencies that is characterized by high administrative volume (such as the parks or highway authority, the court system,
or the community college system) and offering an easy-to-use, highly effective option for on-site work.
• The perception of added money for campus budgets. CUNY Central financed the first few work crews to “push” those crews
through, so that later — when the system and supervision had proved effective — campuses were willing to contribute
money from their own budgets, which “pulled” more crews online.
• The boot camp population. Discipline and strictness have made these CEO graduates easier to work with on-site. Mr.
Farley notes that the rare unpleasant incident was positively resolved through intervention by CEO senior managers.

Finally, formerly incarcerated people (CEO’s most numerous stakeholders) benefit from,
and give back to, the organization. They receive immediate work for immediate pay while
learning vital workplace behaviors that — for most people who engage in the job development process — lead to employment. They give back their energy, their experiences, and
their wisdom. And their word of mouth convinces other people who are coming home from
prison to ask their parole officer to refer them to the CEO program.

A Self-Supporting Financial Infrastructure
“Daily pay for daily work” is a hallmark of CEO, and the provision of a daily paycheck to participants is one of the most important benefits of the program model. People who are


released from prison often do not have enough cash to cover their basic expenses for two
weeks, until a paycheck arrives. Paying participants daily gives them immediate material
compensation for a job well done.
To ensure that participants receive this much-needed support, it is critical that CEO maintain a healthy cash flow at all times. Its robust financial infrastructure has two main parts:
First, and most important, is an Internal Service Fund (ISF) housed in the New York State
Division of Parole, which acts as a revolving fund for the transitional work crews; second is
the impact of the ISF on CEO’s cash management.
In governmental budgeting, an ISF accounts for the financing of goods and services that
one state agency provides to other state agencies, institutions, or governmental units on a
cost-reimbursement basis. CEO’s fund was modeled after New York State’s Correctional
Industries Fund, which supports the manufacture of furniture, clothing, and other products
inside prisons.16 CEO’s transitional work program is an earned income model, with revenue
provided by the public institutions that use CEO’s work crews. These agencies pay CEO
through their existing maintenance and repair budgets. Surpluses are often generated in
these budget lines due to the time-consuming processes required by state procurement
policies. With the Division of Parole’s ISF, these processes are not required, because of the
intergovernmental nature of the transactions. The fund works as follows:
1. CEO, acting as managing agent for the Division of Parole, provides services to a state
agency (such as the Department of Transportation).
2. The Division of Parole uses the ISF to reimburse CEO for its expenses.
3. The state agency reimburses the Division of Parole.
4. The Division of Parole deposits the revenue into the ISF.
This approach gives government agencies a quick and convenient way to get services using existing funds that otherwise would go unspent on maintenance and repair; the system supports a
healthy cash flow for CEO, which avoids becoming a “bill collector,” since agencies deal directly
with the Division of Parole; and hundreds of parolees are put to work at minimal cost to the
state.17 The ISF structure allows state and city agencies to get work done by professionally managed crews without having to waste time or money on burdensome procurement processes.

Strong Operating Systems and Staff Structure
Running a program like CEO’s requires strong operating systems — both human and computerized — and a dedicated staff who understand the mission of instilling positive workforce behaviors in clients who are sometimes difficult to reach.

Operating Systems


The backbone of CEO’s fielding of work crews is its Network for Information Gathering
Evaluation and Learning (NIGEL) system, a custom-built computerized application to track
clients and schedule worksites. NWP currently operates 35 to 40 worksites in all five boroughs of New York City. Sites can be added, closed, and edited using the system (see the
NIGEL Site Screen below). Currently, a total of 220 participants work at NWP sites — there

NIGEL Site Screen

are 150 participants working at 20 to 25 day sites and about 70 participants working at 10
to 15 evening sites. Work assignment begins with the scheduling and confirmation process.
The scheduling process requires participants to call the Data Department and request a job
assignment. The Data Department fields calls and assigns participants to specific worksites. It
then generates a list for each of the active sites that includes the names of all participants, their
job coaches, and their parole officers. It is then the participant’s responsibility to arrive on time at
the scheduled worksite. Site supervisors check and call in attendance, and then the Data
Department transmits a confirmed attendance list to the Payroll Unit, which generates checks,
sorts them by worksite, and gives them to a CEO driver for distribution that afternoon. The site
scheduling system also maintains a scheduled appointment day for each participant to seek permanent employment, with the aid of job coaches and employment specialists. Participants cannot schedule themselves for transitional work on that appointment day, and, if they miss their
appointment, they cannot get rescheduled for transitional work without the intervention of their
job coach. This ensures a proper balance between transitional work and full-time job development.

CEO’s staffing structure reinforces the program’s goal of helping formerly incarcerated people
learn to work. This is particularly clear in two staffing features. First, CEO employs its work crew
supervisors directly, instead of having its participants be supervised by staff employed by the
agencies at the worksite. CEO thus controls the supervision and training of participants and can
ensure that the CEO CPs are taught and reinforced at the worksites. Second, approximately onethird of CEO staff were formerly incarcerated themselves. These staff members often serve as
role models for participants. CEO also demonstrates to participants and employers that it “walks
the walk” — it not only says that formerly incarcerated people can be good employees and can
make valuable contributions to an organization, but it also shows that it means what it says.


Building on
CEO’s Promise

Photo by Saliena Reichelt

CEO has placed more than 8,500
formerly incarcerated people in jobs
in New York City over 10 years.


By following the model described above, CEO has placed more than 8,500 formerly incarcerated people in jobs in New York City over 10 years. This track record has brought the
organization new support. In fall 2004, with support from the Edna McConnell Clark
Foundation, CEO completed a comprehensive business plan that will chart its course over
the next decade. The organization’s key goals include refinements to the program model,
to enhance outcomes for participants; creation of a groundbreaking Learning Institute to
facilitate research and innovation and to disseminate CEO’s work; and a variety of capacity-building initiatives to strengthen CEO’s infrastructure and meet increased demands. A
significant portion of the business plan is being underwritten by the Edna McConnell Clark
Foundation. The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation makes substantial multi-year investments in leading youth-serving organizations as part of its ongoing efforts to help young
people from low-income families develop the skills and abilities that will enable them to
make a successful transition to productive adulthood.

Case Studies: Adapting CEO’s Model for Use in
Other Jurisdictions or with Other Populations
Although CEO is proud of what it has accomplished for people who are leaving prison and
seeking employment, it is not doctrinaire about its program model: CEO does not presume
to have hit upon the only way to structure comprehensive employment services for this population, nor does it aspire to create “franchises” in other jurisdictions across the country or
around the world. Instead, CEO feels that the model is adaptable to the needs of various jurisdictions and populations. Some jurisdictions may wish to use certain elements (the transitional work crews, the Internal Service Fund); some may want to use or adapt other features
(the employment specialists’ work with employers, the fatherhood program); and some may
aim to replicate the model in full. The how-to manuals provide a starting point for jurisdictions
that are looking to replicate the model or adapt its elements. Beyond that, CEO can provide
customized assistance, depending on a jurisdiction’s needs and interests.
Following are some early examples of how CEO has helped jurisdictions put into place
some or all of the program model:
• Tacoma-Pierce County Employment and Training Consortium (TPCETC) in Tacoma,
• Roca in Chelsea, Massachusetts
• WorkOut by Pecan in London, UK

Tacoma-Pierce County Employment and Training
Consortium: Helping to Build Momentum and
Buy-In for Transitional Work
Tacoma-Pierce County Employment and Training Consortium (TPCETC) developed over several years’ effort by the Department of Corrections (DOC) and the local consortium that provides services in Pierce County under the federal Workforce Investment Act. After state legislation required DOC to provide services aimed at reducing recidivism among high-risk former
prisoners, DOC looked to develop a transitional employment program — and TPCETC turned
to CEO for help. In a pivotal meeting of all the stakeholders — the police, DOC, city government, and workforce development providers — CEO made the case for a supported transitional work program and for the importance of job coaching and job development. CEO’s
presentation helped generate momentum and buy-in of the transitional employment model
among the organizational participants, which subsequently led to the development of the
Employment Support Alliance (ESA), a new program targeted specifically to former prisoners.
Like CEO’s program, ESA begins with a one-week employability workshop. In Tacoma, however, transitional employment (known as Paid Work Experience, or WEX) is used primarily
as a last resort for participants who are unable to find unsubsidized employment. The work
slots are in private or nonprofit organizations, rather than government agencies, and
TPCETC does not provide supervision at the worksites. Participants are paid biweekly rather
than daily. Because TPCETC does not have contracts with the sponsors of the worksites to
perform specific tasks, the participants’ earnings are financed by DOC.


Roca (Chelsea, Massachusetts):
Creating an Internal Service
Fund to Support Transitional
Employment for an At-Risk
CEO’s programming has garnered attention
from a wide range of organizations, including
some that do not work exclusively with people
who have criminal records. One organization that
was inspired to create its own variant of CEO’s
hood-based nonprofit organization that builds

Photo by Harvey Wang

transitional work program is Roca, a neighborcommunity and skills among young people in
an at-risk neighborhood in Chelsea, Massachusetts. After learning about CEO’s program,
Roca saw that work crews could be a stepping stone to permanent employment by providing skills that its young people were missing. Roca also saw the Internal Service Fund (ISF)
— which is used to collect money from agencies that hire CEO work crews and circulate it
back to CEO — as an essential program element that it wanted to replicate.
CEO has worked hard with Roca to help put an ISF into place. CEO’s executive staff attended a meeting of key stakeholders convened by Roca and also hosted intensive site visits at
CEO for Roca’s staff. In July 2005, the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill to provide
Roca with $2 million for a Retained Revenue Account — the Massachusetts version of an
ISF — with the Department of Social Services. By August 2005, Roca had successfully developed and proposed its program model, and the proposals were well received.
Roca’s program will look different from CEO’s program in several ways. Whereas CEO participants come from all five boroughs of New York City and the work crews are located
accordingly, Roca focuses on a 20-block area and, therefore, will limit the size and scope of
work crews and locate them within the neighborhood. As part of Roca’s community-building mission, its work crew participants will also take part in community activities. And
Roca’s employment program will be open to any youth in the community who is eligible to
work — criminal record or not.
The interaction between CEO and Roca has been a reciprocal exchange in which both organizations learn from each other. In the process of advising Roca, CEO has gained valuable
insight about building stronger relationships with youth; subsequently, it has started adding
elements of Roca’s program — mentorship and discussion circles — to its new youth programming for participants ages 18 to 25. The Roca replication of CEO shows how the adaptation process can build best practices across the vocational development field. Interaction
among organizations will create improvements in the CEO program model, which will ultimately benefit the organizations that are learning from CEO.


WorkOut by Pecan (London, UK): Using CEO’s
Model to Secure Funding for an International Project
The Pecan project, called WorkOut, more or less completely replicates the CEO model.
Pecan is a London-based organization that “helps people overcome barriers to employment
and to find, get, and hold satisfying jobs.”18 Prior to its interaction with CEO, Pecan worked
with a range of hard-to-employ populations. Though it had not planned to work with people who are leaving prison, learning about CEO’s programs offered a new avenue for Pecan
to help hard-to-employ populations find jobs. Because a small subset of its client base are
either formerly incarcerated individuals or have needs similar to them, Pecan decided that
the CEO model would be a good fit.
Pecan found two prisons in the London area that were willing to participate in the program,
and then it conducted site visits at CEO. With significant support from CEO, Pecan created
a proposal that incorporates 90 percent of CEO’s program — including pre-employment
classes, work crews, job coaching, and job development. As a result, it was awarded a £3
million government grant (about $5.5 million) to fund a comprehensive employment program for people coming out of the two prisons. Pecan’s WorkOut program began working
with clients in July 2005 and is expected to put about 300 participants into transitional work
during a two-year pilot test.
Most of Pecan’s WorkOut project directly replicates the CEO model. Unlike CEO, however,
Pecan begins working with clients while they are still in prison. Upon their release, participants attend a week of preparatory training based on CEO’s pre-employment classes, and
then they spend one month in transitional work crews. For the first two weeks, they are paid
daily, as in CEO’s Neighborhood Work Project; after that, they are paid weekly. Following the
month of transitional employment, Pecan does job coaching and contracts out the services
of CEO’s employment specialists, helping participants find long-term jobs that suit them. To
test whether the CEO model will reduce recidivism in London, the initial grant for WorkOut
includes monies for a comparative study of Pecan’s program and CEO’s program — a study
that is likely to benefit both the criminal justice and the workforce development field.
The differences in the two programs arise mainly from differences in the legal and social contexts of the United Kingdom and the United States. Pecan is not able to work with local government agencies because of laws that restrict charities from replacing public sector employees. Therefore, instead of creating an Internal Service Fund with local government agencies,
Pecan’s work crews compete in the bidding process for commercial service contracts. As
Pecan is affiliated with a consortium of churches, one of its first contracts is for maintenance
work for the London Diocese. A second key difference is that Pecan pays its work crews 10
percent more than the minimum wage and pays clients for the one day per week that they
take classes. The higher salary is intended to address the fact that WorkOut is competing
directly with the country’s strong welfare program, which provides competitive benefits for
those who are eligible without requiring work in exchange. The third difference between the
two programs is that Pecan has developed a system to handle its payroll via debit cards and
scheduling with hand-held PDAs, an element that CEO will take lessons from as well.


Case Study Lessons
The three organizations outlined here have each created variants of the CEO program
model that correspond to their budgets, needs, and contexts (see the table below). CEO has
worked differently with each organization, finding the way that was most helpful to them.
That three organizations so disparate geographically and programmatically have pursued
and implemented elements of CEO’s model suggests that further dissemination of the
model may assist other jurisdictions looking to improve the fortunes of their citizens coming home from prison.


to CEO’s Model

Tacoma-Pierce County
Employment and Training
Consortium (Tacoma,

• Works with formerly incarcerated individuals
• Has strong partnerships
with government and community-based organizations
• Program begins with preemployment training

• Transitional jobs are only a
“last resort” for participants
who are unable to find
unsubsidized employment
• Transitional work sites are
not supervised
• Transitional work sites are
in private or nonprofit
• Transitional wages do not
come from worksites
• Participants are paid biweekly

CEO support helped to generate buy-in of transitional
employment model among key

(Chelsea, Massachusetts)

• Has a similar transitional
work crew model
• Has an Internal Service
Fund with the
Massachusetts Department
of Social Services

• Target population is youth
and young adults, regardless
of criminal conviction
• May not adopt the daily
paycheck model
• Program focuses on a 20block area

CEO coached Roca on how
to set up an Internal Service
Fund; Massachusetts legislature passed a bill to provide
Roca with a version of such a

UK )

• Works with formerly
incarcerated individuals
• Contains all key elements of
CEO’s model (pre-employment training, work crews,
job coaching, job development)

• Pecan works with clients
before release from prison
• Pay is weekly
• Key changes because of different legal and social context:
• Competes with commercial
contractors for worksites
• Pays 10% more than minimum wage and pays for
classes for participants
• Has no Internal Service
• Debit card pay system
• Electronic scheduling via
hand-held devices

CEO provided its entire
program model to Pecan;
using that model, Pecan was
awarded a government grant
equivalent to $5.5 million to
fund comprehensive employment services for people
leaving two prisons


to CEO’s Model

How Did CEO Help?

Further Information
Details about CEO and its program are available in the how-to manuals, Opportunities,
Challenges, & Practical Solutions. For more information or to inquire about the companion
manuals, please contact CEO.
CEO Learning Institute
The Center for Employment Opportunities
32 Broadway, 15th Floor
New York, NY 10004
Telephone: (212) 422-4430, ext. 340
Fax: (212) 422-4855

Jeremy Travis, But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry (Washington, DC: Urban Institute
Press, 2005, p. xvii), citing 2002 figures.

Joan Petersilia, “When Prisoners Return to the Community: Political, Economic, and Social Consequences,” in
Sentencing and Corrections (Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, November 2000); Travis, But They All
Come Back, (p. 163), citing Washington State and Ohio studies that had employment rates of 26 percent after two
years and 40 percent after six quarters, respectively.

In July 2003, CEO initiated a multi-agency partnership to engage thousands of city-sentenced inmates leaving the
city jail system, Rikers Island, in CEO’s immediate work program. This three-year experiment is a variation of
CEO’s core programs, as this is CEO’s first experience working with city inmates, as well as the first time CEO has
worked inside a correctional facility. For more information on this project, contact Tim Williams, CEO’s Director
of Transitional Employment Services.

This is the first condition that the New York State Division of Parole applies to all parolees.


Mark Levitan, “A Crisis of Black Male Employment: Unemployment and Joblessness in New York City” (New York:
Community Service Society, 2004).

Mark Levitan, “Unemployment and Joblessness in New York City, 2004: Better but Still a Long Way to Go” (New
York: Community Service Society, 2005).

Paul Von Zielbauer, “Race a Factor in Jobs for Ex-Convicts,” New York Times, June 17, 2005.


Legal Action Center, After Prison: Roadblocks to Reentry, A Report on State Legal Barriers Facing People with Criminal
Records (New York: LAC, 2004).

Patrick A. Langan and David J. Levin, “Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 1994,” NCJ 193427 (Washington, DC:
US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2002, p. 3, table 2), showing that the rate of rearrest was
highest in the first six months.
Debbie A. Mukamal, “Confronting the Employment Barriers of Criminal Records: Effective Legal and Practical
Strategies,” Journal of Poverty Law and Policy (January-February 2000).
Of roughly 2,000 individuals who come to CEO orientation each year, 90 percent graduate from pre-employment
training. Of those, 75 percent are matched with a job developer, and 60 percent of those who are matched are
placed in full-time jobs.
New York State Department of Correctional Services, inmate look-up. See the department’s Web site:

Shock Incarceration is a six-month, military-style early-release program in the New York State prison system.


CEO works with people who have been convicted of drug offenses, burglary, robbery, and weapons charges but
not with people who have been convicted of arson, sex offenses, or assault. Murder and manslaughter charges are
considered case by case.

Prior to this, CEO already had a contract with the Division of Parole for full-time job development and placement


Virtually every state’s Department of Corrections operates a Correctional Industries Fund.


As with all ISFs, CEO’s ultimate goal is for the work crew operation to be self-sufficient.


From the Pecan Web site (June 29, 2005):



The Center for Employment Opportunities
32 Broadway, 15th Floor
New York, New York 10004

Tel: 212.422.4430
Fax: 212.422.4855



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