Sign up for InDepthNH.org free weekly newsletter here.
By Nancy West, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – The young Hollis man whose story spurred opposition to holding mentally ill patients who haven’t committed a crime at the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the men’s prison has been transferred back to the state’s psychiatric hospital.
Andrew Butler, 21, who was a popular student and athlete at Hollis Brookline High School, was moved out of the prison unit on Thursday. He was returned to the New Hampshire Hospital, the state’s psychiatric facility, according to Jeff Lyons, spokesman for the Department of Corrections.
Lyons wouldn’t discuss Andrew Butler’s case specifically because of confidentiality rules, but did say generally the goal is to provide treatment that allows patients to be moved to the least restrictive setting.
Andrew’s father, Douglas Butler, believes his son will be going home to Hollis in a matter of days.
“I went up today to visit and he’s doing fine,” Butler said on Friday. “We had a good visit and a good talk.”
Andrew Butler’s friends and the community of Hollis raised money and signed a petition to “Free Andrew” after learning that he was locked up in prison without having committed a crime.
The state has said it is a last resort for civilly committed individuals to house them in the Secure Psychiatric Unit with convicted criminals who have mental illness, people deemed incompetent to stand trial and those found not guilty by reason of insanity. It is rare and only occurs when a patient is considered too dangerous to themselves or others to be housed at New Hampshire Hospital, state officials say.
In late April, his lawyer, Sandra Bloomenthal, filed a petition in U.S. District Court demanding Andrew be transferred to a certified psychiatric hospital.
Bloomenthal argued Andrew shouldn’t be held in prison because he hadn’t committed a crime. Andrew told InDepthNH.org during a recent interview that he has been diagnosed as schizophrenic. His problems began last summer after taking a hallucinogenic drug, Andrew said. He was committed to the New Hampshire Hospital, but transferred in late January to the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the men’s prison.
“He is locked down 23 hours a day. He has been tasered. The treatment he has received is cruel and unusual punishment without having been convicted of a crime and with no pending criminal process,” Bloomenthal wrote. “The petitioner is incarcerated rather than hospitalized under color of law by the State of New Hampshire.”
Senior Assistant Attorney General Lynmarie Cusack said in the state’s public motion to dismiss Andrew’s petition that the federal court lacks jurisdiction, the petitioner has no standing, and the action is barred by the Eleventh Amendment.
The case has yet to be heard in federal court and it was unclear whether it would continue now that Andrew has been transferred out of the Secure Psychiatric Unit. Cusack didn’t immediately return a phone call on Friday.
Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, has been trying to stop the practice of keeping non-criminals at the prison psych unit for many years. He is planning on filing legislation next session to stop it. This time, he will be joined by Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, and other lawmakers in the fight.
Douglas Butler said he wasn’t sure what would happen to the petition in federal court. He was just happy to bring Andrew a Chipotle burrito bowl and enjoy the visit.
There are problems to address down the road because the state removed him as Andrew’s guardian, but they will get through it, Butler said.
“All is good is what you feel. That is how Andrew and I deal with this,” Butler said. “It will be a while before we can dig our way out.”