Policy and Advocacy at CEO

Feb 13, 2020   |  By Bill Heiser, Senior Director, State Policy

Author: Bill Heiser, Senior Director, State Policy

Over the past year CEO has created a new Policy Department that will build upon the strength of our program and push for structural reforms to improve the lives of people coming home from incarceration. Working across all 10 States where CEO operates, our policy and advocacy efforts seek to diminish the impact that mass incarceration, mass supervision, and justice involvement generally, has on the economic opportunities available to a person after being released. Our policy team will be focused on creating more opportunities for individuals to secure employment and reducing the barriers they face in trying to achieve a more stable economic future.

Through this work CEO’s policy team will call attention to what happens when our communities are invested in the success of people coming home from prison, rather than the monitoring and control of our fellow residents. Just yesterday, Governor Stitt in Oklahoma highlighted CEO’s work in the State and Tara, one of CEO’s participants who has successfully come home and gotten a job. As the Governor said, “the State and our community partners want to help you keep a tight hold of hope and the future you and your family deserve.” It is a future where people coming home see hope and opportunity that CEO’s policy work seeks to achieve.

CEO’s Policy Work seeks to...

Increase investment, particularly State investment in reentry employment services in order to make a job a standard part of coming home from incarceration. This work will be focused on creating new revenue streams through the budget process and expanding existing state investments so that they reflect the scale of the demand for jobs.

Advocate at all levels of government for the removal of collateral consequences in order to promote economic mobility and reduce continued justice-system involvement. The focus will be on issues such as: Parole reform, reducing justice related debt, occupational licensing bans, and access to public benefits.

CEO Participants have already begun to play a crucial role in our policy work informing both areas of focus and directly participating in advocacy efforts. In Ohio and California we are engaging participants in our policy work in a more direct and systematic way. Based on these efforts we will develop a strategy for incorporating participants into our policy and advocacy work across all of our sites.

Year 1 Accomplishments

Our team’s initial focus was increasing state investment in reentry employment services while we developed a framework for addressing collateral consequences. We have been able to get this work moving in 7 states with CEO offices, establishing CEO’s presence as more than just a direct service provider. Even in this more formative state we managed to both build the important infrastructure and begin to advance several issue-specific agendas:

Increased state investment in reentry employment

Despite the enthusiasm for reform and increasing employment, most states are not making the requisite investments in reentry employment to create jobs and opportunities for people after release. To address this challenge, CEO worked closely with governor’s offices and state agency leaders to advocate for making larger scale investments in reentry employment services. In our first year, we were able to secure new funding dedicated to reentry employment in 4 of our States (OK, TN, OH and CO). These investments will pay for new work crews, open access to federal resources through the SNAP Employment and Training program and establish new funding for reentry employment programs in the state budget. Collectively they represent millions of dollars now being dedicated to reentry employment and a scalable model for funding reentry employment services in these states and others.

SNAP Reform in Michigan

For years, Michigan’s annual budget has contained one of the most restrictive SNAP enrollment bans for people with felony drug convictions and probation or parole violations. CEO led a bipartisan coalition of more than 16 Michigan based organizations in support of ending this ban. CEO has been able to bring this issue to the forefront and is leading an effort to remove the ban in this year’s budget either through the Governor’s office or through the legislature.

Built a highly talented policy team

Over the past year we have expanded the policy team to 8 people. We have built a team to reflect CEO’s national presence with staff located across the Country and are developing specific expertise in the 10 States where CEO is working. This will enable us to move towards our goals of increasing investment in reentry employment and addressing the collateral consequences of justice involvement on economic opportunity.

Year 2 Goals

Now in our second year, CEO’s policy department, seeks to move forward on the work that we have already begun around increasing investment, rollout a more concerted effort to eliminate collateral consequences and explore ways to better engage our participants in the advocacy around justice reform.

Increasing investment in reentry services

In FY20 CEO will continue to engage state leadership to further their investments in reentry employment services. Our efforts will focus on increasing existing investment and creating new opportunities that can support reentry employment services on a large scale. We will work with states to braid both state and federal funds in creative ways that make such investments attainable. In Tennessee, CEO will work with the Governor’s office to dedicate further resources towards reentry employment programs. This effort will focus not only on sustaining and increasing the current investment but on exploring ways to embed these funds within an agency, making them a more permanent part of the state budget moving forward. In Oklahoma, CEO is working with the Workforce Development Department to explore a state-wide performance based contract which would establish standard payments per outcome (e.g. job placement). If successful, this would create a scalable revenue stream capable of growing along with CEO and expanding to support other effective reentry programs in the State.

Collateral consequences

Working across multiple states, the following areas for collateral consequences work will be CEO’s focus in the coming year: Parole/Probation reform (reducing the burden and duration of parole/probation supervision), reducing justice-related debt (e.g. use of administrative fees which create lasting debt for people after release), occupational licensing, driver's license suspension reform, and SNAP exclusions for people with convictions.

Participant Engagement

CEO has begun to more systematically engage our participants in the advocacy process with a specific focus on Ohio. This effort is helping participants develop skills as advocates and utilizing their voices to advance policy solutions. In California, CEO has created a Participant Advisory Council representing CEO participants from across the State. The Policy Team is working with this Council to engage participants in our policy and advocacy work. Each of these initiatives lays the foundation for how CEO will make participants an integral part of our policy work.

As our team prepares for the year ahead we are excited by the opportunity to make policy reform a part of CEO’s work everywhere we operate. CEO’s policy work extends our impact beyond the provision of direct service. It is part of our ambitious plan to create lasting structural change that will improve the lives of people coming home from incarceration in the States where CEO has a presence and beyond.