Employment supports to reduce recidivism: Philadelphia, PA
- Creating an entry point to the labor market: Transitional job and re-entry support programs typically provide participants with short-term, paid jobs, subsidized and/or hosted by the program. Job-focused supports are often supplemented by wraparound vocational services, like career coaching and soft skills training. The ultimate goal of transitional employment programs is to facilitate a participant’s transition to unsubsidized, full-time employment.
- Supporting a range of populations: Many transitional employment and support programs are tailored to a specific population. Some, for instance, focus on individuals recently released from prison, while others focus on those most at risk of engaging in or falling victim to violence. Other programs may work with TANF recipients, people with disabilities, and individuals with no job history. The target population often dictates a program’s length: some are just three months, while others can last several years.
- Preparing for stable employment: Transitional employment and re-entry support programs are often delivered in phases. Initially, such programs typically provide workforce readiness training alongside supplemental support services (such as cognitive behavioral therapy, case management, and financial literacy courses). Then, participants are placed in a transitional employment role with daily pay; in many cases, transitional employment is provided by the program itself in areas like beautification or office administration. Finally, programs may offer referrals for full-time employment and ongoing coaching and job retention support to help participants achieve employment stability
- Engaging with public, private, and nonprofit employers: In addition to providing workforce readiness training and transitional employment, many support programs also build a pipeline of employers to hire participants for full-time, unsubsidized work. Across evidence-based programs, employers come from a wide range of sectors, including nonprofits, the public sector, and in private companies. Programs typically attempt to secure a diverse set of partner employers to fit the wide-ranging skillsets and personalities of participants.
Multiple syntheses of rigorous independent studies and evaluations demonstrate that transitional employment and re-entry support programs are associated with increased employment and income.
A 2022 research synthesis concluded that transitional and subsidized jobs were associated with increased employment and income among low-income adults, youth, unemployed individuals, TANF recipients, and individuals recently released from prison. Research also indicates that some strategies can be associated with reduced recidivism.
A 2020 research synthesis of subsidized employment programs found they increased participants' earnings and employment, and reduced recidivism; effects were strongest among those who had been out of the workforce for an extended period, were at higher risk of recidivism, or did not have a high school degree.
A 2016 randomized control trial found that two subsidized employment programs for TANF recipients had positive impacts on earnings and employment, with mixed impacts on benefit receipt.
Results and accomplishments
Reduction in incarceration for new crimes among Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) participants
Increase in employment after 36 months among CEO participants
CEO participants recidivate 16-22 percent less often than non-participants
- Serving hundreds of formerly-incarcerated residents: Since 2015, the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) has provided services to over 800 Philadelphians recently released from incarceration.
- Securing permanent employment for participants: The program has placed nearly 440 men in permanent, unsubsidized jobs with an average wage of nearly $12 per hour.
- Scaling up through partnership: A 2018 agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services allows for the state to reimburse CEO for up to 50 percent of expenses for anyone receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. This partnership allowed CEO to serve significantly more individuals in Philadelphia and throughout the state and connected CEO participants to vital food and transportation assistance.
- Recognition at the state level: CEO was recognized as a state-wide best practice in providing re-entry services by a 2020 report released by the Office of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf.
In 2016, Philadelphia had one of the highest rates of incarceration in the country, with 833 people incarcerated for every 100,000 residents. A contributing factor was the county’s high recidivism rate - nearly two-thirds of individuals released from prison experienced rearrest or re-incarceration within three years.
In 2015, the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) expanded to Philadelphia. The program aimed to reduce recidivism by creating stability for individuals returning from prison. To do so, CEO offers four services: workforce readiness training, transitional employment with daily pay, job coaching and placement, and a year of job retention support.
Keys to the program’s success included strong partnerships with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and individual parole officers, which helped identify individuals who would benefit from the program; support from then-Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration, which served as a key convener; and productive relationships with businesses and government agencies to identify transitional work contracts.
What was the challenge?
- High recidivism rate: A 2013 report from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections found that Philadelphia County had the second-highest overall recidivism rate in the state, with 65.5 percent of all individuals released from prison experiencing rearrest or re-incarceration within three years.
- High levels of incarceration: A 2016 report from the Vera Institute of Justice showed that Philadelphia had one of the highest rates of incarceration in the country, with 833 people incarcerated for every 100,000 residents.
What was the solution?
- Prioritizing the issue: Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration placed a high priority on reducing recidivism, lowering levels of incarceration, and improving public safety in Philadelphia.
- Selecting an evidence-based solution: The GreenLight Fund, a venture philanthropy fund, was in close contact with Pennsylvania state government and the Nutter administration. After spending a year identifying the most effective, evidence-based strategies around re-entry, GreenLight recommends CEO as the optimal partner to bring to Philadelphia. CEO had established a long track record of success, starting as an independent organization in New York in 1996 and operating in nine cities by 2015.
- Support from release to permanent employment: The program reduces criminal behavior and recidivism by offering services that create stability immediately upon return from prison. The program consists of four phases: workforce readiness training, transitional employment with daily pay, job coaching and placement, and a year of job retention support.
- Blending work with coaching: Participants work up to four days a week on a CEO work crew, gaining the knowledge, experience, and training to become permanently employed. Once per week, participants attend one-on-one job coaching and development programs.
What factors drove success?
- Providing comprehensive supports: The structure, support, and pay that CEO provides to its participants as soon as they are released from prison is at the core of what makes the model effective.
- Partnerships with businesses and government agencies: CEO’s ability to serve individuals returning from prison depends on transitional work contracts from government agencies or businesses. In Philadelphia, the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation provided support for the program’s first two work crews.
- Developing an enrollment pipeline: Referrals from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and close relationships with individual probation officers ensure that the individuals who can most benefit from CEO’s services are able to enroll.
- Support from the Mayor's Office: Beyond financial support for the initial work crews, the Nutter administration served as a critical convener for CEO, including the organization in a number of citywide initiatives, introducing its leaders to potential partners, and making it part of the broader citywide conversation about incarceration and recidivism.
Mayor Nutter had long made public safety one of his top priorities, and upon winning a second term, his administration begins a number of new initiatives focused on reducing violence, incarceration, and recidivism.
The GreenLight Fund, led by Matt Joyce in Philadelphia, identifies CEO as being a very promising strategy for reducing recidivism. Discussions begin between the city, state, and GreenLight on how to bring the program to Philadelphia.
The parties create a unique partnership where the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections commits to funding the bulk of CEO's vocational activities, the City of Philadelphia (through the Department of Parks and Recreation) supports the organization's initial social enterprise capacity, and the GreenLight Fund provides time-limited growth capital to help launch the program.
Participant referrals come from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Two work crews are funded by the City of Philadelphia's Department of Parks and Recreation and provide approximately 150 individuals with transitional job opportunities annually.
During this period, CEO deepens its relationships with a range of state and local policymaking and advocacy groups. These partnerships build CEO's ability to understand the local re-entry landscape, provide greater access to services for participants, and advocate for justice reform policies like inclusive hiring.
CEO contracts with CBRE, a real estate company, in the South Philadelphia Navy Yard in its first transitional jobs partnership supported by a business.
A CEO report finds that in FY2018, CEO’s Philadelphia office achieved stronger outcomes than any other CEO location. The program particularly stands out for its results in 180-day employment retention rates.
Partnership allows for the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) program to reimburse partners for up to 50 percent of expenses in providing vocational training services.
The transitional jobs partnership with PolyScience adds to a roster of work crews serving the CBRE Navy Yard, East Falls Community Development Corporation, Green City Works, and Waste Management.
How did leaders confront the problem?
- Making public safety a priority: Mayor Michael Nutter enters his second term highly motivated to reduce violence, citywide incarceration levels, and rates of recidivism.
- Identifying an evidence-based solution: The Philadelphia GreenLight fund works with city and state leaders to identify evidence-based programs to reduce recidivism.
- Securing funding from multiple partners: The GreenLight Fund leads negotiations between the city and state, ultimately striking a deal that combines funding from all three partners.
How was the strategy designed?
- Starting with a pilot: The CEO model has been honed since the 1970s, when the organization started as a pilot initiative of the Vera Institute of Justice.
- Meeting participants needs: The strategy is built around the recognition that recently released individuals benefit from immediate and daily pay, a highly structured work environment, individualized support, and a sense of community.
- Understanding the local context: Before expanding to Philadelphia, CEO had expanded to Upstate New York in 2009, followed by Tulsa, Oklahoma City, San Diego, and San Bernardino. Given the program's recent growth, the CEO team had a clear sense of the preconditions necessary for successful implementation.
How was the approach funded?
- Support from city government: CEO Philadelphia’s first transitional job opportunities are supported by the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation, which makes an initial commitment of $330,000 for two work crews stationed in city parks.
- Leveraging state and philanthropic dollars at launch: Nearly half of CEO Philadelphia’s funding at launch comes from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, which contracted with CEO to provide re-entry services. Additional launch funding comes from the GreenLight Fund, the Curaterra Foundation, the Patricia Kind Family Foundation, and Bank of America.
- Securing ongoing support from state agencies: Since launch, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Community Corrections has provided $1.7 million in support to CEO through a per diem rate for every participant the program serves. In 2018, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, via the SNAP Employment and Training Program, begins to provide a 50 percent reimbursement for services for every participant enrolled in SNAP.
How was the plan implemented?
- Creating a pathway to enrollment: Once an agreement is reached with the City, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC), and the GreenLight Fund, CEO immediately begins work with PADOC to formalize a referral pathway for individuals well-suited for participation.
- Building relationships with potential partners: With the help of the Mayor’s Office, CEO begins meeting with local leaders and community-based organizations to build relationships and trust.
- Launching the program: Initial round of referrals from PADOC is made and first 27 individuals begin programming in August 2015.
How was the approach measured and refined?
- Developing individualized plans: CEO creates a profile for every participant upon entry that contains their demographic basics, previous work experience, food assistance eligibility, and other information. As participants engage with programming, CEO Job Coaches work with them to deepen these profiles, defining their skillsets and employment goals. These profiles continue to evolve through individuals’ participation and forms the basis of every participant’s individualized employment plan.
- Setting KPIs for every stage: Key performance indicators include orientation and work crew attendance, internal assessments of job readiness, number of interviews attended, performance feedback on work sites, placement locations, wages at placements, and retention milestones. These indicators are tracked in every individual’s profile.
- Using independent evaluation: The organization has undergone four independent analyses in different locations and demonstrated positive results in each study.
Results for America would like to thank the following individuals for their help in completing this case study: Christopher Watler and Dane Worthington, CEO; Maari Porter, Mitchell Little, and Solomon Leach, City of Philadelphia; George Little, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections; and H. Patrick Clancy, Philadelphia Works.