CEO Profile: A conversation with Chris Watler

Jan 13, 2022   |  By Legal Action Center

This profile was originally published by the Legal Action Center

Q+A with Christopher Watler, Chief External Affairs Officer at CEO

Can you describe CEO's work in supporting people directly impacted by the criminal legal system?

CEO is the largest provider of transitional job opportunities for people returning to the community from prison or jail. We connect people immediately to paid employment and guarantee every participant who completes a one-week job-readiness orientation up to four days a week of transitional work on a crew and daily pay – a critical asset during an important time. We also provide skills training, case management, and ongoing career support to promote future economic mobility and ensure that individuals can successfully attain and maintain employment. Our work-first model has strong evidence that this approach reduces recidivism and promotes longer term employment.

Can you share a story of an individual who has successfully completed your program and/or what the impact of your programming has been on their lives?

One young man I've known for a few years now, who was among the first cohort in an apprenticeship program we had with a major media company now works full-time in their accounts payable department. He began with CEO on a transitional work crew, completed our program, and achieved social and economic mobility. The career success story says a lot about his perseverance to become financially stable in the face of the tremendous barriers that justice-impacted job seekers face upon release. He is an example of what people can accomplish when we give them the support and opportunities they need to be successful.

Can you talk about the additional work CEO does in engaging employers to advance the field of reentry employment?

CEO offers training and consulting services to employers so they can effectively hire, support, and retain employees with past justice involvement. Employers of formerly incarcerated people not only provide jobs, they also provide stability, purpose and second chances. CEO helps employers understand that by implementing purposeful changes, they can establish inclusive policies and procedures, be more proactive in hiring diverse populations, partner with social service organizations, support employees as they reintegrate, and understand how legislation impacts their business operations.

As a member of the NY ATI/Reentry Coalition, which helped to produce the recently published Blueprint for Transforming Criminal Legal System Outcomes in NYC, what do you think is the most important takeaway for the City's administration?

To support the services offered by AT/Reentry Coalition agencies. When you support these services you are helping job-seekers with past convictions by reducing barriers to steady employment. When a returning community member gets a job and the support they need they are less likely to become re-incarcerated and more likely to build a stable, productive life for themselves and their families. We can hold people accountable, we can help people heal, and we can make sure people have a pathway to socio-economic mobility.