This report presents the final results of the evaluation of the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO). CEO is one of four sites in the Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ Demonstration and Evaluation Project, sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Labor. MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan social and education policy research organization, is leading the evaluation, in collaboration with the Urban Institute and other partners.
Based in New York City, CEO is a comprehensive employment program for former prisoners — a population confronting many obstacles to finding and maintaining work. CEO provides temporary, paid jobs and other services in an effort to improve participants’ labor market prospects and reduce the odds that they will return to prison. The study uses a rigorous random assignment design: it compares outcomes for individuals assigned to the program group, who were given access to CEO’s jobs and other services, with the outcomes for those assigned to the control group, who were offered basic job search assistance at CEO along with other services in the community.
The three-year evaluation found that CEO substantially increased employment early in the follow-up period but that the effects faded over time. The initial increase in employment was due to the temporary jobs provided by the program. After the first year, employment and earnings were similar for both the program group and the control group.
CEO significantly reduced recidivism, with the most promising impacts occurring among a subgroup of former prisoners who enrolled shortly after release from prison (the group that the program was designed to serve). Among the subgroup that enrolled within three months after release, program group members were less likely than their control group counterparts to be arrested, convicted of a new crime, and reincarcerated. The program’s impacts on these outcomes represent reductions in recidivism of 16 percent to 22 percent. In general, CEO’s impacts were stronger for those who were more disadvantaged or at higher risk of recidivism when they enrolled in the study.
The evaluation includes a benefit-cost analysis, which shows that CEO’s financial benefits outweighed its costs under a wide range of assumptions. Financial benefits exceeded the costs for taxpayers, victims, and participants. The majority of CEO’s benefits were the result of reduced criminal justice system expenditures.