MHAO opposes Senate Bill 594

Oregon Senate Bill 594 would authorize county sheriff or municipal police chief to make community notification when person found guilty except for insanity of homicide or felony sex offense is conditionally released from state hospital. Further, it would require the Psychiatric Security Review Board to notify law enforcement officials having jurisdiction over location where person will reside, if conditionally released, at least 60 days prior to conditional release hearing. Allows officials to provide board report or testimony describing public safety concerns.

UPDATE – The hearing on Oregon Senate Bill 594 was canceled today and the bill has been pulled from future Senate agendas.

READ – Oregon Senate Bill 594

Emailed Read to Chair Floyd Prozanski, Vice Chair Jeff Kruse, and Members of the Committee by Beckie Child on March 2, 2011

Mental Health America of Oregon is an advocacy organization for persons who currently experience or have previously experienced being labeled and diagnosed with a mental illness. We also live in communities across Oregon and have a personal stake in our communities being safe, comfortable and healthful places to reside.

Mental Health America of Oregon has several concerns about SB 594. On first reading the intent of this bill is to help keep our communities safe and livable. However, as we examine this proposed legislation, we find that it does not enhance the degree to which the Psychiatric Security Board grants conditional release to its wards. That is to say, it does not make it so that this intensive process will make communities safer. In fact, it promotes fear mongering.

The Psychiatric Security Review Board is extremely cautious in whom it grants conditional release. Persons who are candidates for conditional release must submit to stringent assessments, interviews, and furnish evidence that they are appropriate for conditional release and worthy to be placed in the community outside the state hospital. The indisputable success of inmates of the Psychiatric Security Review Board system in remaining crime-free is well documented and the overall recidivism rate is less than 2 percent including individuals who have been convicted of serious crimes such as sexual offenses and murder. The Department of Corrections notes that their recidivism rate is between 30 and 40%.

SB 594 breeds fear and misunderstanding rather than facilitate safety and security. Those of us who are persons with serious mental health issues are too familiar with the high degree of prejudice, discrimination and general lack of understanding towards us.

The media has done much to perpetuate the fear and lack of understanding so that many persons live in fear of those individuals whom they do not understand. As a person who has a significant mental health challenge, I have personally known what it is like to be received with suspicion and prejudice because of society’s lack of knowledge about mental health challenges.

For a period of time in my life, due to homelessness, I shared an apartment with individuals who were under the jurisdiction of the Psychiatric Security Review Board. I was friends and neighbors with individuals who had plead guilty except for insanity and were on conditional release with the psychiatric security review board. I lived with my friends and neighbors for nearly two years. Several of the individuals had committed serious crimes—including murder. I never once felt that my personal safety was in danger because my neighbors had committed serious crimes.

SB 594 will not make our communities any safer. It will instead feed people’s fears and reinforce the obstacles that already exist due to stigma and discrimination. Research has demonstrated time and time again that people diagnosed with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime than to be perpetrators of crime unless the individual has been abusing drugs or alcohol.

Another major concern regarding SB 594 is Section 8 (on page 5 Lines 25-32) that requires the medication a person is prescribed be entered into the Law Enforcement Data System—and I ask for what purpose? How is it that law enforcement officers having knowledge about the medication a person takes prevent or protect the dangerous actions that people fear? Whose responsibility will it be to update the Law Enforcement Data System if a doctor changes someone’s medication? Additionally Law Enforcement Data System is supposed to have a list of any medications prescribed to the person—does that include antibiotics, medication for hemorrhoids, foot fungus, HIV and cancer medications? If the intent of the bill is to speak to psychiatric medication only, then Mental Health America of Oregon believes that this bill is unconstitutional upon its face.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words in his first inaugural address seem relevant here today: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. The alleged problems that are attempting to be solved by this bill do nothing to reduce the risk or prevent people from causing harm to someone else. The facts demonstrate that people under the supervision of the Psychiatric Security Review Board have very low recidivism rates. All that this bill will do is perpetuate fear and discrimination rather than promote prevention, understanding and safer communities.


Beckie Child, MSW
Executive Director – Mental Health America of Oregon