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N.H. Man Who Fought Transfer to Prison Psych Unit Released

Paige Sutherland / NHPR


A New Hampshire man who fought his incarceration in a prison psychiatric unit is back at home.

Andrew Butler, 21, of Hollis, was committed to the state psychiatric hospital last fall after police found him running in the woods and punching trees. Though he wasn't charged with a crime, he was transferred to the state prison's secure psychiatric unit in January under a policy that allows such moves if someone can't be safely housed at the hospital.

In late April, he filed a petition in federal court arguing the practice is unconstitutional and that he had been subject to cruel and unusual punishment. Corrections officials confirmed he was returned to the hospital June 14. He was released from there and returned home late last week, his father, Doug Butler said Friday.

"Andrew is home and doing very well as he always is," he said in an e-mail.

According to Doug Butler, Andrew showed no signs of mental illness until he returned last summer from a trip to Vermont, where he took hallucinogenic drugs. Andrew Butler told InDepthNH.org he became depressed after an injury, losing a college scholarship and then dropping out of school. He said the hallucinations he experienced in Vermont continued when he returned home, and he was later diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The case helped bring attention to Rep. Renny Cushing's longstanding fight for a secure unit at the state psychiatric hospital for patients like Butler. This year, he sponsored a bill that would have required the prison unit to be accredited as a psychiatric hospital, but the version that passed the Legislature was amended to require less stringent accreditation as a behavioral health facility.

"I think Andrew put the secure psychiatric unit front and center of the public consciousness, but I don't underestimate the challenge ahead of trying to put an end to the practice," Cushing said Friday.

He plans to sponsor a similar bill next year, along with another that would prohibit the use of tasers in the prison unit. He said he didn't realize until Butler's case that tasers were being used on psychiatric patients.

"That is an additional abomination," he said. "You do not use the infliction of pain to treat people with mental illness."

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