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Transitional Jobs for Ex-Prisoners: Early Impacts from a Random Assignment Evaluation of the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) Prisoner Reentry Program

Published: November 15, 2007
Self-Sufficiency, Welfare & Employment
Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ Demonstration and Evaluation Project, 2001-2012 | Learn more about this project

This paper presents early results from an evaluation of the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) in New York City, a highly regarded employment program for former prisoners. The evaluation is part of the Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ Demonstration and Evaluation project, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with funding from the U.S. Department of Labor. The project is led by MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research firm, along with the Urban Institute and other partners.

More than 650,000 people are released from prison each year. These ex-prisoners, many of them parents of children receiving welfare, face serious obstacles to successful reentry, and rates of recidivism are high. Most experts agree that finding steady work is one of the central challenges they face. CEO uses a distinctive transitional employment model. After a four-day job readiness class, participants are placed in temporary, minimum-wage jobs with crews that work under contract to city and state agencies. Within weeks, they receive help finding permanent jobs and, later, services to promote employment retention.

The evaluation targets a key subset of CEO’s population — ex-prisoners who showed up at the program after being referred by a parole officer. It uses a random assignment design: in 2004 and 2005, nearly 1,000 people were assigned, at random, to the regular CEO program or to receive basic job search assistance (this is called the control group). The research team is following both groups for several years, using surveys and administrative data to measure the program’s impact on employment, recidivism, and other outcomes. At this point, data on employment covered by unemployment insurance (UI) and several measures of recidivism are available for one year.

Last Reviewed: April 29, 2019