Insanity defendants re-offend half as often as convicts after discharge, report says

The state Psychiatric Security Review Board currently cares for 575 people. Thirty-seven percent of them are at Oregon State Hospital. The rest are out on conditional release.

KATU has obtained early results from a bombshell, first-of-its-kind study on people found guilty except for insanity of serious crimes in Oregon.

The Psychiatric Security Review Board (PSRB) found that after 200 of those people were discharged, they re-offended about half as often as people released from prison.

The PSRB oversees the treatment of people found guilty except for insanity in serious criminal cases. More than 60 percent of the crimes that put people in the agency's care are the most severe crimes in the state.

The results from the study are preliminary and Alison Bort, the PSRB's executive director, told a KATU reporter they will be further analyzed in the future.

The PSRB, which meets at Oregon State Hospital in Salem, came under fire a couple of years ago after two men it discharged early were charged with murder soon after being released.

In 2017, Susan Harmon told a KATU reporter she felt incredible anger after police said her daughter, Annita Harmon, 40, was murdered by her ex-husband, Anthony Montwheeler, near Ontario.

"There's a big hole," Susan said. "Your heart just aches."

Officers said Montwheeler kidnapped Annita and stopped at a gas station. They said he then stabbed her before driving a pickup truck into oncoming traffic, colliding with an SUV and killing the driver. Montwheeler has since pleaded not guilty to multiple aggravated murder, kidnapping and assault charges in the case.

The incident happened less than a month after the Psychiatric Security Review Board granted an early, full discharge to Montwheeler, who was found guilty except for insanity of kidnapping in 1996.

"He should never have been loose. Never," Susan said.

In November 2016, Charles Longjaw, an offender with an extremely violent past, murdered a homeless man in Portland. That was about a year after the PSRB released him.

Both cases brought intense scrutiny to the board. But at the time the PSRB could not provide data on how often people in its care re-offended after they were fully discharged.

On Wednesday, Bort talked with lawmakers about preliminary results from a recent study on that topic. It compared 200 people the board discharged to 22,908 convicts the Department of Corrections released from prison, many of whom were still on parole.

The study looked at people released in 2001, 2006 and 2011. It found on average about 20 percent of those discharged by the PSRB were convicted of a new crime that happened within three years of their release. By comparison, researchers found an average of around 41 percent of convicts released by the Department of Corrections were convicted of crimes that happened within three years after they got out.

The PSRB currently cares for 575 people. Bort said only 37 percent of them are being treated at Oregon State Hospital. The rest are on conditional release, which means they're living in the community but still being monitored and cared for at varying levels of supervision.

In 2017, Juliet Britton, the PSRB's executive director at the time, told a KATU reporter that Montwheeler and Longjaw did not have mental illnesses qualifying them for the insanity defense.

She said by law the board must release people who don't currently have a qualifying mental illness even if they're considered dangerous. She also said the PSRB doesn't get to choose who they're required to supervise. That decision is made by the courts.

Bort, who became the PSRB's executive director in June 2018, said the agency has established a data-use agreement with the Criminal Justice Commission and that they expect to release more numbers in April and/or May.

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