Media Highlights

WIOA In Action: Center for Employment Opportunities

by Sam Schaeffer   •  

At the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), we work to expand opportunity by providing immediate, effective and comprehensive employment services to men and women returning home from prison. Through a combination of workforce preparation and supervised transitional work experience, our nonprofit helps people regain the skills and confidence they need in order to transition to stable, productive lives. CEO aims to connect individuals to the labor market and reduce the rate of recidivism, thereby strengthening our communities and saving millions of dollars in incarceration costs.

We believe that in today’s economy, we can’t afford to sideline any of our talent. We need everyone who can work to be out on the field, doing their part.

Each day in the United States, 2.2 million people are incarcerated, including a million young Americans under the age of 30. Every year, more than 600,000 people return home from prison. The rate of recidivism is extremely high – more than 60 percent of them will return to prison within five years.

We know that when people return home after incarceration, they face a steeplechase of barriers in connecting to the labor market. Many lack a high school diploma and work experience. Some are struggling to reconnect with family and with other issues such as sobriety and mental health. And the stigma of incarceration makes it hard to even get in the front door of many businesses. The right employment program can help.

We believe that the reauthorized Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which sends about $3 billion a year to states for workforce development initiatives, could allow CEO to access federal resources and scale up our highly-effective program.

CEO has been proven through random assignment evaluation to stop the cycle of recidivism and save taxpayer dollars. Our target population is those people who are at the highest risk for reincarceration, particularly young adults ages 18-25. CEO was founded in NYC and operates in 10 cities across New York, California and Oklahoma. In the coming year will launch new operations in Philadelphia, PA and San Jose, CA. 

In all of CEO’s locations, we operate the same model. CEO recruits people who have been recently released from prison who are at the highest risk of recidivism. We begin with a week-long life-skills preparation class that helps people complete a resume, practice interview skills and get ready for their new job. At graduation they are given a pair of steel-toed boots and guaranteed a position on one of CEO’s work crews performing basic labor and maintenance assignments for various public agencies and institutions. Every day, CEO’s crews are cleaning college campuses, buffing floors of public buildings and landscaping outdoor spaces. Participants generally spend 2-3 months working on a crew, gaining work experience, demonstrating their ability to participate in the full-time workforce. Once they are ready, our job developers match them with employment opportunities and each week they are sent out on job interviews until they are hired.

This year, CEO made 2,300 full-time job placements. These jobs reflect the labor market of each local community. In New York City, most jobs were in service and retail sector as well as the construction trades. In Buffalo, NY light manufacturing and food processing jobs were in-demand; and in San Bernadino, California, there was a high demand for logistics work.

Because of CEO, fewer people return to prison and jail and states and communities have more resources to spend on things like education, parks and healthcare. Today, the U.S. spends $64.3 billion on incarceration. That’s a huge amount of money. Studies have shown that CEO’s program not only reduces the rate of recidivism but also to saves money. For every $1 spent on CEO’s program, it saves taxpayers $3.30.

We know there are thousands more who could benefit from our program.

So far, federal workforce investment funds have not been a significant part of CEO’s funding stream. But we hope that could change under the reauthorized WIOA.

CEO can help local Workforce Investment Boards around the country meet the increased requirements for serving disconnected young adults. For the first time, WIOA permits funds to be utilized to pay for transitional work activities. This is a win-win: high-impact programs like CEO can receive support to expand access and meet more of the demand for services, and workforce agencies are positioned meet new federal mandates all while ensuring that every American has the opportunity to find their path to prosperity.

Sam Schaeffer is the executive director and CEO of the Center for Employment Opportunities, a nonprofit that helps adults who have recently been released from prison find jobs. CEO operates programs in New York, California and Oklahoma. 


Sam Schaeffer

Sam Schaeffer is the executive director and CEO of the Center for Employment Opportunities, a nonprofit that helps adults who have recently been released from prison find jobs. CEO operates programs in New York, California and Oklahoma. CEO joined the Opportunity Nation coalition in 2014.

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