NEWARK — Over the past two years, Peter Santos has hired 40 ex-convicts to help him build and renovate apartments here; 36 did not last, many of them doing unacceptably sloppy work or simply disappearing after a few weeks — or a few days — on the job.
One worker, Ronald O’Reilly, 41, had spent more than half his life in prison, for burglary, drug sales and weapons possession, when Mr. Santos last summer gave him not just a job but a cheap apartment and the furnishings to make the place feel like home. He even paid to repair Mr. O’Reilly’s neglected teeth. “I gave him my all,” Mr. Santos said. “I really thought Ron would be different.”
But within five months, Mr. O’Reilly had rekindled his love affair with crack cocaine, said Mr. Santos and others who knew him. He stopped coming to work, ceased paying his $500 monthly rent, and by the time he was evicted, had not only sold off the contents of the apartment, but also the items in an adjacent storage space that belonged to his erstwhile patron, they said. He was arrested soon after and charged with sexual assault.
The situation epitomizes the way Newark’s two leading problems, crime and unemployment, are intertwined with the huge number of ex-convicts in the city. Some 2,300 men and women pour into the city from prison each year, and 65 percent are rearrested within five years. One in six adult residents of the city has a criminal record.