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Violence expert learns
a lesson the hardest way

Lori Post was studying violence long before it struck home.

With a PhD in sociology and an emphasis on injury prevention, she researched domestic violence and helped design information systems to screen out abusive, even murderous, health-care employees. Then, in September 2011, her home state of Michigan let a career criminal out of prison on work release.

Christopher Perrien's background check turned up a criminal history of nine incidents, mostly nonviolent. But a more thorough search of public records reveals 13 pages of information on Perrien, including charges of stalking and child abuse, and protective orders sought by multiple women.

"This is a creepy, scary individual," says Post, an associate professor and research director at the Yale School of Medicine. With access to his full record and her  knowledge about statistical patterns of violent behavior, "I could have predicted he would kill somebody."

He did. Just weeks after his release, Perrien murdered Post's sister and brother-in-law, Terri and Michael Greene, at their Michigan home. The violence-prevention expert threw herself into answering the question: how could this violence have been prevented?

The answer, Post says, is better information.

"Nobody wanted Michael and Terri to die," she says. The judges and prosecutors who let Perrien out of jail were good guys. "It's because they couldn't see what I can see"—that 13-page trail of crime, violence, threats, mostly against women and children.

Perrien was sentenced last week to life in prison. Post flew out to make a victim statement, highlighting the brutality of his crimes and goodness of the lives Terri and Michael Greene lived: giving generously to charity, helping seek a cure for breast cancer, volunteering at the Special Olympics.

And Post is doing her part: with colleagues at Yale-New Haven Healthcare System and Michigan State University, she helped draft three bills that she believes will stop the next Christopher Perrien.

The bills, which she expects Michigan legislators to consider in the fall, would require judges, prosecutors, parole officials, and police to consider not only criminal histories, but also records from civil and probate courts—such as protective orders and child-abuse complaints—when deciding whether to release a prisoner before the end of his sentence.  

"It's my therapy," Post says of this research and advocacy. "It's my salvation. And it will work."

Filed under Lori Post, violence, School of Medicine, criminal justice
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