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Police need to know about dangerous offenders

by: Metro Graphics,

There are understandably many questions surrounding the tragic death of Jennifer Warren, which occurred Sunday morning as the 39-year-old mental health caseworker made a scheduled stop at the home of Brent Redd Jr. in St. Helens.

Redd, 30, is suspected of stabbing Warren to death in his house as she visited him around 8 a.m. Sunday to administer his medication.

Perhaps the most suggestive has been the realization that mental health workers for Columbia Community Mental Health, who are tasked with checking up on offenders found guilty of crimes but for the reason of insanity, commonly do so alone, with no backup.

Various print, radio and online media have begun the review of the case, including stories on Oregon Public Broadcasting, over the Associated Press news wire and in The Oregonian. As reported in The Oregonian, a coworker of Warren's quit CCMH on Sunday due to longstanding concerns of having to pay solo visits to people with violent pasts in order to administer medication.

Since Warren's death, CCMH officials have reportedly allowed the option of having caseworkers team up to do their job. It is an option that has been offered too late for Warren, raising hard questions about CCMH policies and practices as it operates as Columbia County's lead mental health agency.

Oregon Health Authority officials have pledged an investigation into the killing, including a review of CCMH, and we are hopeful it will shed some light on the agency and, more generally, the statewide administration of criminally insane people with violent histories who are released back into our communities following extended hospital stays.

Another storyline we are tracking is the apparent disconnect between the Psychiatric Security Review Board, which the Oregon Health Authority administers, and local law enforcement. In a discussion with Walt Pesterfield, director for Columbia County Community Corrections, we learned his agency, which is charged with managing parole and probation services in Columbia County, was unaware Redd had moved to St. Helens following his release in 2010. Other law enforcement officers have reported a similar lack of knowledge regarding Redd's presence in the community.

Though we can appreciate the separation between medical services and law enforcement, the idea that dangerous offenders who have an extensive history of criminal wrongdoing are allowed to take up position in a community with no notice to law enforcement is flawed. Beyond Redd's conviction for attempted murder of his mother in 2007, we are learning he has a criminal record going back to 1999, including assault and theft charges.

To be clear, the spectrum of mental illness is as wide and varied as the people it afflicts, and certainly only a slim percentage are dangerous.

But it is not like other maladies. There is no cure. Yes, it is treatable, and assuming the treatment is effective and well tested, the risks and hardships for those living with and around the afflicted are reduced. Not eliminated, but reduced. Altering the treatment or introducing outside stimuli, such as illicit drugs or other pressures, can radically shift the balance between mental health and illness.

It's not difficult, from a practical perspective, to draw a parallel between sex offenders who move into the community and those with violent histories attributable to mental disease. In both cases, the agencies tasked with overseeing the release of those offenders make a calculated risk regarding their respective offenders reintegration into society.

In the case of sex offenders, however, they are subject to reporting requirements to law enforcement, and in many cases are tracked via online programs so that the general population knows where they live. Not so for the person who has mental illness and who has committed violent crimes. In that case, whether it is intended to reduce undue stigma associated with mental illness, the offenders are treated via a health administration agency and the population and law enforcement remain in the dark regarding their past crimes.

Now, as we take heed of Warren's death, Oregon Health Authority officials have promised to work hand-in-hand with law enforcement to ensure the fallout investigation is comprehensive and thorough. Unfortunately for Warren, that level of cooperation extended from the healthcare community is too little, too late.