CEO expands its reach to help more ex-offenders find employment

San Diego CEO crew member does landscaping work for the city of Chula Vista.

CEO, the Center for Employment Opportunities, has expanded beyond New York State, where it began, to more widely offer employment services to those with recent criminal convictions.

Focusing its attention on California, the nonprofit opened offices in San Francisco and San Diego last year and is currently scouting another California location in the Central Valley or Inland Empire in which to set up shop by 2014.

CEO’s program model helps people coming out of prison enter the workforce by giving them life skills education, short-term paid transitional employment, full-time job placement and post-placement services.

“In 2005, CEO began a three-year random assignment evaluation of the program that ran through 2008, and based on the results of that evaluation, we found a significant reduction in recidivism – 20 percent,” says Bill Heiser, the Oakland, Calif.-based director of California operations. “That gave CEO the confidence to expand outside of NYC.”  The expansion began in upstate New York with offices in Buffalo, Albany, Rochester and Binghamton.

Two social innovation awards – one from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and the other from REDF (The Roberts Enterprise Development Fund) – allowed CEO to move beyond New York State and establish offices in Tulsa and California.

Why California? “California is where the need is. It has the largest number of people under supervision and the largest prison system,” says Heiser.

In Oakland, Volunteers of America is implementing the actual work program, while CEO provides the job development and job placement services. Through a contract with Caltrans, the program’s work crews do litter abatement on highways within a 20-mile radius of Oakland. Currently 49 parolees, both men and women, are involved. On average, Oakland CEO will serve about 150 people per year.

The San Diego CEO office, which is wholly owned and operated by the organization, works with the city of Chula Vista’s public works department to do various jobs, including landscaping and maintenance of the city’s parks and light janitorial work. The program, which began in December, now involves 30 people.

Wherever it operates, the CEO program has four phases. “Participants are referred to us from parole or probation. They attend a four-day life skills education class in which they’re oriented to the program, and the following Monday they go to work on one of our transitional work crews,” says Heiser. Participants receive a daily paycheck, as well as a daily evaluation from their work crew supervisor.

Each participant works four days a week and on the fifth day meets with a job developer to prepare for a nonsubsidized full-time job. After they’re placed in a job, they have one year of job-related support services.

They’re also paid to continue involvement in the program. “They receive a fiscal reward (an AmEx card or the like) for checking in with us once a month,” says Heiser. “We vary the incentive, and the amount varies. On the 180th day of employment, for example, we give them more money. In Oakland we might be giving $750 in total if they do everything perfectly. It’s part of our retention services. If they lose the position, however, they can come back and reengage with the work crew and get job counseling again.”

For more information, visit the CEO’s website at


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  1. I think this is great program to help ex-offenders in the workforce in helping them find and develop skills for employment! I would like to receive information for my clients, i feel this program is something that they can benefit from. My email is attached,and i look forward to hearing from you.
    Thank You, Lorraine Trejo

  2. I am working for a treatment facility in Escondido, would be nice to receive some information for your program, so we can in turn provide to a segment of our program.

  3. I am currently looking for work , please give me any information about this program through email.

    – thank you

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