Sen. Bruce Starr: Neighborhood Notice for criminal halfway homes

Sen Starr Announces Neighborhood Safety Legislation New Rules for Homes Housing Guilty Except for Insane

(Salem) New Legislation was announced today by State Senator Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) designed to improve public safety in neighborhoods where homes are located housing people who have been found “guilty except for insanity” (GEI). “We’re only talking about those who are potentially the most dangerous, living in Secure Residential Treatment Facilities (SRTF),” said Starr.

Two years ago an SRTF opened in Cornelius in the heart of Starr’s legislative district. Several of the occupants were placed on conditional release by the Psychiatric Security Review Board (PSRB). They had been found GEI for arson, rape, sex abuse and murder. The Connell House was up and running before local police, fire officials and neighbors had any idea. Starr has introduced Senate Bill 910 and Senate Bill 911 to address concerns related to these Secure Facilities in the future.

SB 910 requires neighbors within a 1,000 foot radius of the proposed site to be notified and SB 911 establishes standards for security and staff training. “The adoption of facility, training and notification standards for these facilities will go a long way in creating an environment of trust in government by the public,” said Paul Rubenstein, Cornelius Police Chief. According to state figures there are eight SRTFs housing 54 people, but many more are on the drawing board.

In January 2008, Starr attended a meeting of some 300 Cornelius residents upset about Connell House. The home was temporarily closed by the state last summer after an escape and reports of sex and drug abuse. It has since reopened as a non-secure residential facility housing lower level offenders.

“Under current state law there is no notification required even to local law enforcement,” noted Starr. “There is also no definition of “˜secure’ for an SRTF. We know some of these facilities have high fences; others allow the residents to walk around the community.” “Transparently and an open process are key to keeping neighborhoods safe when finding locations for these kinds of facilities. I think Senator Starr’s proposed legislation gets us there, and will improve the decision making process at a local level,” explained Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon.

The State Sheriff’s Association and the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police both want new laws regarding these homes. Cornelius is not the only city impacted by these homes. Neighbors in Albany, Milwaukie, Vale and others have also voiced concerns about SRTFs proposed for their area. The PSRB manages nearly 750 clients found “guilty except for insanity”, about half on conditional release. Of those in the community, 12% live in a secure facility. Pressure has been building for more community placements over the next few years as a new state mental hospital is constructed.

A recent Governor’s taskforce report also outlined recommendations for better standards similar to those in Starr’s legislation. “Residents have a right to know when a home full of these offenders moves next door,” said Steve Doell, President of Crime Victims United. “This legislation would not violate anyone’s civil rights because it doesn’t target specific people; it simply gives people a heads up that a facility of this type has been located in their neighborhood.”