Center for Employment Opportunities

Breaking the cycle of incarceration and poverty by addressing individuals’ short- and long-term employment needs.

The Scale of the Problem

Roughly 600,000 men and women are released from prison each year. An estimated 200,000 of these individuals are at a high risk of returning to the criminal justice system and are in critical need of employment services. As they reenter their communities, they face many barriers to employment, including limited education and work experience, as well as a lack of access to hiring networks. With little support to overcome these challenges, about two‐thirds of returnees are re‐arrested within three years, and 40% return to prison.


of the 600K released each year will return to prison within 3 years


of people released from prison are between 18 and 25 years old


spent each year ~$33,000 to keep one person in prison

A Promising Solution

Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) helps men and women recently released from prison successfully transition back into their communities by offering a week-long job-readiness class followed by transitional employment on one of its work crews, where participants work an average of two to three months before being placed in a full-time unsubsidized job. After placement, participants continue to receive support and retention services to ensure their ongoing success in the workforce.


reduction in recidivism among participants


greater likelihood of participants being employed a year after release, and 42% greater likelihood three years after release


net benefit to tax payers per participant

Blue Meridian's Investment

Our investment supports the implementation of a “Pilot Plan” to test new strategies for increasing the number of transitional jobs for individuals returning from prison and more effectively aggregating public funding. During the second stage of our investment, depending on the pilot results, CEO will begin the development of a detailed scaling plan to more rapidly expand its proven model.

$12.5M invested over three years

Increase the number of transitional jobs available by expanding the range of employers and scale of contracts

Gain significant traction in securing state funding to support CEO’s vocational services as the program expands

Why We Are Excited About Center for Employment Opportunities

Every organization in our investment portfolio displays a variety of strengths. Here are highlights of the tremendous potential we saw in CEO’s strategy and why we invested:

Exemplary Leadership

Upon joining CEO in 2009, Sam Schaeffer spearheaded the organization’s expansion to 11 cities across California, Oklahoma and New York, cementing its programming as the nationwide model for reentry it is today. Sam was promoted to Chief Executive Officer in 2014 and leads by example; the exceptional team he has since created mirrors his contagious passion, knowledge and commitment while representing vital experience in strategy, finance and program impact. His dedication to reducing recidivism and increasing public funding for reentry extends beyond CEO and is illustrated by his continuous engagement with federal, state and local governments. Sam is personally invested in learning and evolving and holds his team to the highest standards as they strive to make CEO the very best at what it delivers and how. He is building an organizational culture that values diversity, equity and inclusion, with the goal of ensuring more positive experiences for CEO participants and staff alike.

Evidence of Success with a Challenging Population

The strength of the evidence base surrounding CEO’s model is a unique bright spot in the field of reentry—there are very few alternate interventions proven to help men and women successfully transition back into their communities after incarceration.

CEO has produced significant positive outcomes for those at the greatest risk of recidivism. A major external evaluation led by MDRC showed that CEO’s program reduced recidivism among participants who enrolled within three months of their release from prison by 16 to 22 percent. A second MDRC study found that CEO implemented the model with a high degree of fidelity as it expanded to new sites across the country.

CEO’s work has also resulted in measurable financial benefits for communities: as recidivism decreases, so do criminal justice expenditures; CEO returns $3.30 for every $1.00 spent on the program.

About Center for Employment Opportunities

CEO supports men and women as they reintegrate into their communities after incarceration. By providing people with immediate paid employment, skills training and wraparound vocational supports, CEO seeks to connect participants to meaningful jobs and careers. Originally established by the Vera Institute of Justice, CEO now operates in 21 cities across eight states and serves roughly 6,000 formerly incarcerated men and women annually.

Learn more about Center for Employment Opportunities

Sam Schaeffer

Sam Schaeffer joined CEO in 2009 to spearhead its nationwide replication. Under his leadership, CEO has expanded and now operates in 21 cities across eight states, serving 6,000 formerly incarcerated men and women annually. Because of his commitment to evidence-building and learning, he was named a Results for America Nonprofit Fellow in 2016, a recognition granted to leading chief executives of evidence-based nonprofit organizations.

"What Happens After Incarceration?"

Recently released from prison, this CEO participant explains how the program changed his life.

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