Life after prison

“You have fines and parole fees you have to pay when you are released from prison,” Smith said. “Without a job, it makes it even more difficult.”

Smith isn’t alone. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ 2012 Annual Report states it released more than 34,000 state inmates over the past four years.

To help those released offenders, the Center for Employment Opportunities recently opened an office serving the Oklahoma City metro.

CEO is a national prisoner reentry program that started in 1996 in New York and now has offices in California and, in 2011, added Tulsa.

“We work exclusively with men and women who are coming home from prison,” said Kelly Doyle, CEO’s Oklahoma director.

Doyle said most of the referrals come from probation and parole officers.

During its recent OKC opening announcement, Bob Ross, president and CEO of Inasmuch Foundation and CEO’s Oklahoma advisory committee member, said he was thrilled CEO was able to open an office in Oklahoma City.

“CEO is a great example of a publicprivate partnership working to provide immediate employment services to men and women that can help transform their lives,” Ross said.

But the program doesn’t just hand out jobs on a silver platter. It is designed to provide structure and teach ex-felons independence.

How it works
“The mission for them is to provide immediate, effective employment,” Smith said. “They get you job-ready.”

It is divided into several components.

Starting with a four-day life skills class, counselors teach ex-felons how to cope with workplace stress and their newfound freedom.

“On the third day we give them a pair of steel-toed boots and what we call a passport to success,” Doyle said. “And on Monday, they start working for us, earning a paycheck.”

Smith said the program helped him practice some of the job skills he learned before going to prison. And he said it helped him look at the workforce through the eyes of the employer.

Program graduates then move to a highly supervised transitional job with CEO. Jobs include event cleanup, light construction, groundskeeping and janitorial services.

Doyle said participants are paid $7.25 per hour.

Each employee works for CEO as he receives on-the-job training and leadership.

“We leverage the transitional jobs into full-time work,” Doyle said.

CEO then works with each participant on job search and interview techniques and helps find permanent employment with outside companies.

For a year after permanent jobs are secured, program counselors continue providing guidance and support to insure job retention.

CEO has helped more than 17,000 ex-felons find jobs in the U.S., and studies show the program helps reduce recidivism.

In 2004, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources conducted a survey on more than 900 CEO participants. The agency reported that successful completion of the program

reduced the offenders’ chances of returning to prison by up to 22 percent. Additionally, the study reported the program saves taxpayers $3.30 for every $1 spent in the program. In other words, every $1 million CEO spends on exfelons represents a $3.3 million savings to the public.

Most of these savings manifest as reduced costs for state-run reentry programs and labor for government projects.

CEO has already seen success in Oklahoma since it opened its office in Tulsa. That office has since helped 80 participants find and keep jobs.

Oklahoma City’s branch has also seen quick results. CEO reports the office secured full-time jobs for 17 participants and has provided transition experience to 73 individuals.

Last year, the program helped Moore cleanup after the tornado that destroyed much of the area. Two teams were assigned to the city last year, and a third was added this month.

“CEO has done very high quality work for the City of Moore,” Richard Sandefur, Moore’s public works director said during the public announcement.

“They demonstrate outstanding dependability. They also provide their own supervision and transportation, which is a real benefit. CEO’s workforce is superior to any temporary help because they show professionalism and have a great work ethic.”

For more information, visit CEOWorks.org.

M.A. Smith

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