Rep. Linda Flores on Criminally Insane Neighborhood Notification

Press release from State Representative Linda Flores:

Criminally Insane Moving Next Door-
Flores Wants Better Notification

(Salem) “I’m troubled by the number of criminally insane patients moving into group homes in our communities and the lack of communication with law enforcement,” said State Representative Linda Flores (R-Clackamas). Flores has asked the Legislative Counsel’s Office to look at changes in current state law to add more notification and protections when these homes are located in residential areas. The House Interim Committee on Human Services and Women’s Wellness has also scheduled a hearing on these concerns December 10th starting at 8:30 AM in Hearing Room E at the State Captiol in Salem.

Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote plans to testify at the hearing. “Public safety must be the most important concern whenever a criminal who has been convicted but declared legally insane is removed from the state hospital and placed in the community,” said Foote. “And before facilities for the criminally insane are located within local communities there should be public notice and an opportunity for the community to respond.”

A half dozen or more of these homes are reportedly being established in several places around Oregon. There have been recent news reports about homes going into Milwaukie, Albany and Cornelius. Flores has also heard about similar facilities in Wilsonville, Woodburn and Southern Oregon. Last week a mental patient escaped from state custody while visiting his mother at a care facility in Portland. The man was ruled guilty but insane in the 1988 stabbing death of his girlfriend. Police finally apprehended the patient a day later in Northeast Portland.

These patients are under the jurisdiction of the Psychiatric Security Review Board (PSRB). Flores learned about a facility in Cornelius a few months ago which houses several dangerous offenders put away for murder, arson and sex offenses. In 1990, a judge committed one of them to the PSRB for 50 years after he escaped from the former Dammasch State Mental Hospital, kidnapped and raped a 3-year old girl. “The State needs to be up front with the communities when going through the design review, planning and hearing processes when placing these facilities,” said Cornelius Police Chief Paul Rubenstein. “The PSRB refuses to notify local law enforcement authorities who is released into their communities and in fact has forced us to file for information under the Freedom of Information Act.”

Representative Flores believes the PSRB could do more to inform local police agencies but she is exploring possible legislative action for the 2009 Session and hopes the issue will be addressed during the February 2008 Special Session. “I can’t think of a more pressing issue facing our state than the safety of our neighborhoods,” explained Flores. “A rape victim shouldn’t have to see her attacker on the street corner a few months after a judge locks him up until he’s mentally fit to be out in society. It’s inexcusable,” said Steve Doell, President of Crime Victims United of Oregon. “Many of these offenders are still very dangerous and should be confined in the most secure facility possible.”

“Oregonians have a right to know if one of these facilities is planned for their community and where it will be located. I believe these offenders should not be located near residential areas. Instead they should be behind a secure fence on State Hospital grounds,” pointed out Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon. “We all know the 120 year old Oregon State Hospital in Salem is overcrowded and structurally unsafe,” noted Flores. “However, we can’t just move these people into neighborhoods without some kind of notification.” Around 400 forensic patients have been housed at the State Hospital, making up half the population. The Legislature has authorized over $450 million to build two new hospitals; one in Salem set to open in 2011, another in Junction City scheduled to be up and running by 2013.

For Representative Flores there is clearly a difference between people with chronic mental illness and those found “guilty except for insanity” by a court. Over the years she has been a strong supporter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She was instrumental in passing landmark mental health legislation such as Senate Bill 1 in 2005 to improve medical coverage and Senate Bill 83 in 2007 so Oregon’s laws would have more respect for people with disabilities.