Overview and Inventory of HHS Efforts to Assist Incarcerated and Reentering Individuals and their Families . Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ Demonstration and Evaluation Project, 2001 - 2011


Type of Activity: Evaluation

Funding Mechanism:  Contract with MDRC (in partnership with the Urban Institute and the Lewin Group)

Total Available Funding:  The Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ Demonstration and Evaluation Project, which includes the evaluation of the Center for Employment Opportunities Prisoner Re-entry Program as one of its four sites, will be funded over ten years at $23,386,610.

Number of Awards: 1

Award Amount:  $23,386,610

Length of Project Period: FY 2001 - FY 2011 (10 years)

Federal Partners: Administration for Children and Families and the Department of Labor

Summary: The Center for Employment Opportunities (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. The overall project is evaluating diverse strategies designed to improve employment and other outcomes for several hard-to-employ populations. 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 was included in the Hard-to-Employ study because it is a comprehensive employment program for former prisoners — a population confronting many obstacles to finding and maintaining work — and because it has a special focus on parenting and child support issues for participants who have children. The other three sites in the Hard-to-Employ Project are targeting Medicaid recipients with serious depression, Early Head Start parents and children, and long-term welfare recipients.

Background:  There has been a tremendous increase in incarceration over the past three decades. Consequently, unprecedented numbers of prisoners are being released each year: four times as many prisoners were released in 2004 as in 1980. Ex-prisoners face a range of challenges to successful reentry into the community, and rates of recidivism are high. Within three years of release, two-thirds are arrested and more than half return to prison or jail.Many individuals are in and out of prison or jail multiple times for the same original offense, meaning they were re-incarcerated for a violation of parole. Over one-third of prison admissions each year are for parole violations. The large number of former prisoners who fail to reintegrate and who end up back in prison costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year. Expenditures on corrections by state governments were estimated to be more than $40 billion in 2005.

Work seems to be a key ingredient in determining the success or failure of former prisoners’ transition back to society. Studies have shown a correlation between higher employment and lower recidivism, particularly for older former prisoners. Positive employment outcomes can help pave the way to better housing conditions and improved relations within the family and community. Moreover, employment may help ex-prisoners feel more connected to mainstream society and help move them away from criminal activity.

Unfortunately, finding a steady job upon release is a major challenge for this population. Many employers are reluctant to hire someone with a prison record.In a survey of 3,000 employers, two-thirds reported that they would not knowingly hire a former prisoner.Most recently released people also have other attributes, such as low educational attainment and limited work history, that make them less appealing to potential employers, and they may have competing demands from drug treatment programs and curfews or other restrictions on mobility that can further exacerbate the problem of finding and keeping full-time employment.

Well-rounded employment services for former prisoners may be critical to ensuring better post-release outcomes. While there are many community programs that aim to provide these needed supports, few operate on a large scale and little is known about how effective they are. CEO in New York City is one of the nation’s largest and most highly regarded employment programs for formerly incarcerated people.

Evaluation Activities:  The evaluation rigorously tests whether the core components of CEO’s program produce impacts on employment, recidivism, and other outcomes. The impacts of CEO’s program are being assessed using a random assignment research design.

Future Prospects:  N/A


Kristen Joyce
Co-Project Officer, Office of Human Services Policy, ASPE
Phone: 202-690-5739
Email: Kristen.Joyce@hhs.gov

Girley Wright
Co-Project Officer, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, ACF
Phone: 202-401-5070
Email: Girley.Wright@acf.hhs.gov

Amy Madigan
Co-Project Officer, Office of Human Services Policy, ASPE
Phone: 202-690-6652
Email: Amy.Madigan@hhs.gov

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