As unemployment numbers continue to make the news, finding a job is becoming a difficult task for anyone. However, for people who have served time in prison, finding work is hard in any economy. A recent Pew study reveals that 43 percent of felons in the nation end up back in jail.

Helping those with recent criminal convictions and who are returning home from prison, the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) is providing a new lease on life for people leaving the criminal justice system. Started in 1994, CEO provides immediate job employment upon release from prison, with most clients getting work in as little as a week after release. After a week of training, clients are given a pair of steel boots and a picture ID, and they are ready for work.

Clients are usually given transitional work as they look for a full-time job that pays daily. Jobs include basic maintenance and repair work for government agencies, the City University of New York and the New York City Housing Authority.

“What we are saying to people is, welcome to your first job,” said Mindy Tarlow, executive director of CEO. “We work best with high-risk folks because we have the best impact on them. When you are just released from prison, you may be at your most challenging, but you’re also at your most motivated.”

CEO has helped close to 30,000 people since its founding, with 90 percent of the clients being male and mostly men of color. About one-third of clients are between the age of 18 and 25.

Working closely with parole and probation officers, CEO provides in-depth job coaching for clients along with retention service and incentives. Interviews are set up to turn transitional work into a full-time job, which usually takes about two month.

Outside of helping people find work, CEO also provides single-stop services for things like help with food stamps, child support and access to benefits.

“CEO is crucial to our communities because we take a 360-degree approach,” Tarlow said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all model. We are reducing the likelihood of people re-offending.”

Expanding its model, CEO is also located in Albany, Buffalo, Binghamton and Rochester, N.Y., as well as California and Tulsa, Okla. CEO runs an academy in the Bronx that trains clients in plumbing, electricity and carpentry.

Harold Jones is a client of CEO and was incarcerated for eight years before being released last year. Making the decision that he wanted to change his life, he went to CEO. He started out doing transitional work in the court system by doing maintenance. Three months later, the father of three got a full-time job working nights for a sanitation company and has dreams to own his own business.

“If you come home from being incarcerated, CEO is the place for you,” Jones said. “It worked for me. They don’t just place you and forget you, they keep in contact. It’s almost like a family. I feel blessed and I’m going to keep striving.”

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