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Activists march in protest over treatment of patients at state's psychiatric unit

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 24. 2018 8:11PM
The Secure Psychiatric Unit at the State Prison in Concord. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE)

CONCORD — Human rights activists marched for more than two miles Thursday to protest the treatment of those committed to the Secure Psychiatric Unit within the walls of New Hampshire State Prison.

The plight of Andrew Butler, a 21-year-old student athlete from Hollis, has served as a rallying cry for change as state lawmakers on Wednesday gave final approval to legislation requiring the SPU be accredited as a behavioral health facility.

Butler’s father, Dave, spoke at the outset of this Pilgrimage for Dignity, Compassion and Justice that stepped off from the prison and ended at U.S. District Court, the site of a structuring conference Thursday on Butler’s court petition to be released from the SPU.

Butler was first committed last fall to New Hampshire Hospital, the state’s psychiatric hospital, and then was transferred to the SPU.

“He is held as a mental health patient without being in an accredited hospital, denied contact visits with his father, denied contact visits with his attorney, forced to wear prison clothing,” said Sandra Bloomenthal, his lawyer. “He is locked down 23 hours a day.”

Arnie Alpert of the American Friends Service Committee helped organize the march along with N.H. Voices of Faith and Advocates for Ethical Mental Health Treatment.

Alpert said there’s growing awareness about the need to improve this treatment, but while lawmakers work on a solution, he charged that those transferred there are subjected to “inhumane” treatment.

“The attention right now is at a level right now that is higher in the several years I have been paying attention to this,” Alpert said. “As we all know, attention by itself does not mean prompt, decisive action by the state of New Hampshire.”

State Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, has led the campaign for reform and noted Thursday two commissions have already concluded that the care is substandard and New Hampshire needs to make an upgrade.

Other speakers at the event included Jennifer Wright, a resident of Unity who described her son’s experience in the SPU; Ed Largy, a former prisoner there, and Evan Porter, a friend of Andrew Butler’s from Hollis.

Crime, law and justice Health Social issues Concord State Government Mental Health

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