By Gary Damon
In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Byron Brown announced a new partnership with my organization, the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), to rehabilitate 62 vacant and abandoned city-owned properties while providing job training to formerly incarcerated Buffalo residents.
CEO is a nonprofit organization that employs formerly incarcerated individuals, provides them with work experience and training, and then helps them find and retain full-time employment. This partnership shows how local government can work with community-based organizations to address mass incarceration and recidivism while providing tangible economic benefits to our community.
Each year more than 600,000 individuals return home from prison. Erie County has among the highest number of people returning home from prison in New York State, about 1,300 annually, the majority of whom are coming home to Buffalo.
These men and women face many barriers as they reintegrate back into the community and their families. These men and women want to work. Providing supportive employment immediately upon their release can reduce corrections costs while helping them become productive, taxpaying members of the community.
Statistics show that the odds of former prisoners finding and keeping a job are limited. One year after release, unemployment rates for the formerly incarcerated hover around 60 percent. When they do find jobs, earnings are depressed by 40 percent. But with the right support from an organization like CEO, people with criminal histories can overcome the odds.
Since opening in Buffalo in 2009, CEO has helped more than 1,400 returning citizens to develop essential workplace skills by providing them with immediate transitional employment, job coaching and job placement. More than 90 employers in Buffalo and Erie County have then hired these individuals.
Nationally we will help more than 5,000 individuals in five states across the country find employment after returning home from incarceration.
CEO’s effective supportive employment programs use the workplace to develop competencies like teamwork, perseverance and judgment. They transform a first job out of prison into a practice field for changing habits that lead to continued involvement in the justice system.
Rehabilitating vacant and abandoned properties in partnership with the city provides an ideal setting for my organization to operate these supportive employment programs. CEO work crews are able to gain valuable work experience and skills while strengthening local neighborhoods and giving back to the community.
I applaud the mayor for his leadership and willingness to partner with organizations like mine. When government, businesses and nonprofits work together to provide programs like CEO’s, we create a safer, more prosperous Buffalo for everyone – a winning vision for the future.
Gary Damon is director of the Center for Employment Opportunities Buffalo office.