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January 10, 2014

Center for Employment Opportunities expanding services to Oklahoma City area

NORMAN — Officials concerned with Oklahoma’s high rates of incarceration announced Thursday an increased effort in the Oklahoma City area to find jobs for convicted felons when they leave prison.

Those released cannot succeed without employment, several officials said. Each year, about 8,000 prisoners in Oklahoma are being released from prison. Nearly 1 in 3 ends up going back to prison.

“It is like a released inmate climbing up mountains, with hands tied in back,” said Kelly Doyle, state director of the Center for Employment Opportunities, which aids prisoners when they are released from prison.

Since last August, two work crews comprised of convicted felons newly released from prison have been working for the city of Moore as the community continues to rebuild following the devastating tornado last May.

The program has worked so well that Moore City Manager Steve Eddy said Thursday that he hopes the city council will allocate funds to continue the partnership.

Eddy said he was skeptical when officials from CEO approached the city of Moore last summer. He checked with Tulsa area city managers who had worked with CEO, and they were “very, very positive” about the program.

“At first, I said, ‘Who are you?” Eddy recalled. Since then, crews comprised of eight to 10 workers have been aiding the city in cleaning debris left in the aftermath of the May 20 tornado.

The crew members are never left alone, he said, and there has been no trouble. Most were in prison for illegal drug use and mental illness, which are classified as non-violent crimes.

A nervous Jamaal Smith, a former inmate, told the gathering that he was lucky when his parole officer recommended he get into the CEO program. Convicted on a drug offense, Smith is now working full time as a prep cook and baker.

The program endeavors to give former inmates work experience in the hope that it will turn into full-time employment.

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