OREGON AHEAD OF GAME ON CRIME/ILLNESS ISSUE

March 25, 2002 12:00 am

Perhaps you followed the murder trial of Andrea Yates, the Texas woman who killed her five children. The jury had little sympathy: the 37-year-old mothers insanity defense was rejected in four hours. Yates was then sentenced to a minimum of 40 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.

The questions this trial raises are many. They include: what is the best way to handle the insanity defense? Where does compassion for mentally ill defendants end, and compassion for their victims begin? Should the mentally ill go to prison, or receive psychiatric treatment, or get a combination of both?

In some states, juries go by the McNaughton rule. This forces juries to look at not whether a person is mentally ill, but whether the mental illness kept them from telling right from wrong when the crime was committed. In other states, there are guilty but mentally ill verdicts, but most often this verdict lands the defendant in prison.

Oregon, by contrast, is ahead of the curve on this issue. According to Newsweek, it is a state where mentally ill defendants are sent to treatment under jurisdiction of a state review board, in most cases for the length of time equal to the maximum prison sentence for their crimes. Were not saying Oregon is up to snuff on all aspects of mental illness treatment. However, it is good to see our state in the forefront of dealing in a compassionate way with mental illness and crime.

Mental illness is more common than many people think, and it can strike down loved ones and friends. People need heightened awareness on how to deal with the issue. More states across the country need to adopt Oregons progressive approach to dealing with mentally ill criminals.

DON'T JUMP THE GUN

In case you didnt notice, snow and frost kept hanging around Northeast Oregon well into March, like a dinner guest who decides that midnight is just about the right time to go home.

The late winter chill should raise a red flag for the Oregon Department of Transportation. ODOT has the right to extend the deadline for removing studded tires into April.

Now, Oregon law requires that studded tires be removed by April 1. But ODOT can postpone the removal date if the forecast shows winter-like conditions are expected in April. The department extended the deadline twice in 1999.

ODOT officials should keep their eyes glued to the Weather Channel in the days and hours prior to April 1 to see what the two-week forecast looks like. It would be awful if motorists removed their studded tires, only to find that snow and ice conditions were hanging around, putting themselves and their passengers at risk.