Dad: Mental health patient now prisoner

Doug Butler, Andrew Butler’s father, stands outside the federal courthouse in Concord after it was announced the court case to get his son out of the state prison continues.

CONCORD – Andrew Butler is not convicted of, nor even charged with any crime, yet he is treated as a prisoner under the law, thanks to a lack of state resources for people suffering mental health issues.

“He’s very sweet, he’s a great guy,” Doug Butler, Andrew’s father, said.

Andrew Butler, now 21, is a former high school football team captain and class president who suffered a mental health crisis last year which resulted in him being sent to the New Hampshire State Hospital under an involuntary civil committal, his father said.

In January, Andrew Butler was deemed to be a danger to himself and others, so he was transferred to the prison, the only facility in New Hampshire with a secure psychiatric facility. Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, who has been following the case, said Butler went from being a patient to what could be considered a prison because state legislators are not doing their jobs. Cushing is a long-time member of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

Those in predicaments such as Butler’s often have nowhere else to turn when the have an acute mental health episode and institutions have no other options.

Though legislators have known about this problem since at least 2004, their efforts to make changes continue to die, Cushing said. That leaves those such as Butler in the custody of the Department of Corrections, even though they should not be in prison.

“The largest provider of mental health care in the state of New Hampshire is the Department of Corrections,” Cushing said.

Butler now has a prison number, and instead of being treated by orderlies, he’s guarded by corrections officers. He’s put into a population which includes convicted criminals serving prison sentences. All this because the state hospital does not have a secure facility, and legislators have not allocated funding to build such a facility.

Cushing said a 2004 audit of the system exposed the problems at the state prison, and despite numerous study commissions and proposed bills, those such as Butler continue to become prisoners when they need mental health help.

Butler filed a writ of habeas corpus this year to demand he be moved to a certified mental health facility, claiming he is being mistreated in the prison and held indefinitely.

“He is locked down 23 hours a day,” his attorney, Sandra Bloomenthal, wrote in the habeas corpus petition. “He has been tasered. The treatment he has received is is cruel and unusual punishment without having been convicted of a crime and with no pending criminal process.”

According to published reports, Butler said he was tasered and pepper sprayed early on in his stay in the prison, but that his treatment has improved since.

At a status conference in his case on Thursday, the state-appointed guardian for Butler consented to continue with the habeas corpus case in federal court. State officials, who are are objecting to the writ, now have a June 11 deadline to file documents in the case. No hearing date is yet scheduled on the writ itself.

Cushing said that until legislators takes action, more people will suffer the same fate as Andrew Butler, leaving the state more vulnerable to legal action.

“This is the beginning,” Cushing said. “I think you’re going to see a lot of litigation flow from this.”

Damien Fisher can be reached at 594-1245 or dfisher@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DF.