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Hollis man back in state psychiatric hospital after outcry over imprisonment

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 20. 2018 10:21PM

CONCORD — The Hollis man whose case drew widespread attention to the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the state prison for men in Concord, was returned last week to New Hampshire Hospital, where his father says he is more comfortable and receiving better treatment.

Andrew Butler, 21, is a well-known local athlete and graduate of Hollis-Brookline High School, who had no history of mental illness until he returned from a trip with college friends to Vermont last summer.

He took some kind of psychedelic drug and ended up being civilly committed to the state’s psychiatric hospital, where he was diagnosed as psychotic and schizophrenic, and later transferred to the SPU.

That started a long battle by family, friends and sympathetic legislators to get the young man removed from the prison setting and returned to a more therapeutic environment.

A lawyer hired by the family filed petitions in U.S. District Court, seeking to have Butler removed from the prison. She’s now trying to have Andrew’s father, Doug, restored as his legal guardian.

“It’s not a prison,” said Doug Butler of New Hampshire Hospital, “and Andrew is OK there, but I want to get him to a place where I think he can get better care.”

He would like to see his son admitted to McLean Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Belmont, Mass., noted for its clinical expertise and neuroscience research. But first he has to wrest guardianship from the state-appointed guardian.

Since Andrew is an adult, parental rights don’t apply, and the state filed a petition in court stating that a third-party guardian would be in Andrew’s best interests.

“The state still has guardianship, and our lawyer is working very hard to get him out of their control,” said Doug Butler. “I think he needs a better guardian, someone he loves and who loves him.”

The SPU was designed to hold individuals involved in the criminal justice system due to mental health issues, such as those deemed guilty by reason of insanity or those awaiting certification as competent to stand trial.

But patients like Butler are incarcerated there because New Hampshire, unlike 47 other states, has no other place to put them if the act up in the hospital.

State Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, attempted to intervene on Butler's behalf, and hundreds of Avard’s constituents in Hollis and Nashua signed petitions to Gov. Chris Sununu, seeking to have Butler released from the SPU.

State Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, who has railed against the SPU for years, filed a bill in the last session of the Legislature to have the prison-based facility accredited as a psychiatric hospital.

That bill failed, and the House and Senate instead agreed on a bill that would require the SPU to be accredited as a prison health facility, with a promise to investigate a more permanent solution when lawmakers return in January.

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