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Crowd Protests N.H. Man Being Held In Psychiatric Unit at State Prison

Paige Sutherland / NHPR

Supporters of a man being held in the secure psychiatric unit at New Hampshire State Prison, despite never being convicted of a crime, marched in Concord today. As NHPR’s Josh Rogers reports, the protest comes as a federal judge considers Andrew Butler’s request to be transferred to an accredited mental health facility.

According to a writ filed by his lawyer, Andrew Butler, a 21-year-old former engineering student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, is enduring cruel and unusual punishment, including taserings and denials of visits -- from his family and legal counsel.

Butler was committed to NH Hospital last fall, and then after a violent incident, the one-time high school wrestling champ was transferred to the state prison’s secure psychiatric unit. That’s where the state keeps mental patients considered dangerous, even if they’ve has never been convicted of a crime.

Outside of the federal court in Concord, Douglas Butler said his son, and the state, deserves better.

“He has a bare cell, not a book, not a TV, nothing. He just sits in there for 23 hours. If he’s lucky then they’ll let him out for an hour, two half hour segments.”

The state has housed violent mentally ill people at the prison since 1986. Legislative commissions have twice recommended the state treat non-criminals outside the prison. But the state has never built a new high security psychiatric facility.

This week lawmakers voted to require the secure psychiatric unit be accredited as a correctional behavioral health facility, a designation its lacked since 2011. The bill had originally called for the unit to meet a higher standard, that of a psychiatric hospital. 

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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