Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO)

Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO)


“The easy step for anybody who’s coming out of jail would be to revert back to what they were doing because this is one thing that they know how to do the best. The fear of not knowing and messing up, that’s what stops you from moving on. I didn’t know what to say in an interview, how to act-basically because I hadn’t had a real job before. Don’t say, ‘I’m never going to do anything in life.’ There’s always the chance as long as you’re willing to take the chance.”

-Lobsang, Center for Employment Opportunities participant


Approximately 400,000 young adults ages 18 to 24 are presently incarcerated. Once they exit the prison system, 80% are expected to return within three years. The Center for Employment Opportunities provides short-term paid transitional employment, life skills education, full-time job placement, and post-placement services to formerly incarcerated individuals. Initially, maintenance crew work provides immediate opportunities for those returning from prison to earn a paycheck and build skills—as early as four days after signing up.

Participants not only earn a paycheck, but also build connections with staff, create a work history, and connect to more comprehensive services. They meet one-on-one with a coach regularly while in the program, and up to a year after job placement. Individual and group programming emphasizes the practical skills of getting and maintaining a job (interviewing, dealing with conflict, how to describe past conviction). Participants receive monthly stipends for maintaining employment and meeting with their CEO coach. If they lose a job, they can re-enroll in transitional work during their job search. In addition to supporting participants, CEO works with private partners to recruit and support employers open to hiring CEO graduates.


Stable employment is a strong predictor of lower long-term recidivism. A rigorous external study found that CEO reduced the three-year recidivism rate by up to 22% for participants recently released from prison, with particularly strong effects for the most high-risk groups such as young adults, those without a high school diploma or GED, and those with prior convictions. The cost of providing CEO services is approximately $6,000 per participant for the year-long program, including $1,000 in direct payments to participants. The same external study estimates that, based on overall effectiveness, the program generates between $1.26 and $3.85 in benefits to society per $1.00 of cost.


CEO results are notable for its strong effect on lowering incarceration among participants younger than age 29, who tend to be a higher risk group.

  • Percentage of non-CEO participants reincarcerated after 3 years
  • Percentage of CEO participants reincarcerated after 3 years

Source: Redcross, Millenky, Rudd, and Levshin (2012)


You can give to CEO for central or local operations through its website. About 80% of CEO’s funding comes from local government and other work contracts, meaning that philanthropic support can leverage existing public and private market funds for greater impact. In addition, employers can partner with CEO to hire participants and receive support and tax benefits. Employers can also contract services through CEO work crews—CEO provides all training, equipment, and oversight. Employers interested in hiring CEO participants or work crews, or donors interested in supporting expansion to new sites, can contact CEO.

If CEO is not currently in your community, there may be other local programs with similar models in various fields. In evaluating local programs, look for ones that offer more comprehensive supports to ex-offenders, that connect them to employment at a living wage, and that track outcomes over time.


Research now shows that focusing on treatment and connections to services is a more effective approach to reducing youth crime than treating juveniles as adults. Adolescent brain research was behind both the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 decision to forbid imposing the death penalty on youth younger than 18, as well as several state decisions to extend the age at which offenders leave juvenile justice and enter the adult criminal justice system. These findings point to additional ways donors can help.

Donors can advocate for and support effective diversion policies. Such policies provide evidence-based, high quality treatment and mental health services while connecting inmates with mentors and social services to prepare for release. For drug offenders, especially, these policies can reduce recidivism.

Additionally, donors can support policies and programs that keep youth in the less-punitive juvenile justice system longer, instead of waiving them into adult court. For example, a 2007 study by the CDC found that keeping youth in the juvenile justice system versus transferring them to the adult system resulted in an average 34% drop in subsequent criminal involvement.