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Challenge to New Hampshire prison psychiatric unit continues

  • Andrew Butler recently spoke about his situation, which has been the subject of intense outcry from family members and advocates. Nancy West



Associated Press
Monday, June 11, 2018

Lawyers for a young New Hampshire man say his incarceration in a prison psychiatric unit violates a law governing emergency medical treatment, but state officials are rebutting that claim.

Andrew Butler, 21, of Hollis, was transferred to the prison in January, several months after he was committed to the state psychiatric hospital. State officials say patients can be sent to prison even if they haven’t been charged with crimes if they can’t be safely housed at the hospital, but Butler recently filed a petition in federal court challenging the practice.

In their latest filing, Butler’s lawyers argue his transfer from a licensed and accredited hospital to the prison violated the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. But the state responded that referencing that law is “at best perplexing” because it mostly deals with ensuring fairness for people without health insurance.

In a response filed Monday, Butler’s attorneys countered that the scope and intent of the law is not limited to an individual’s ability to pay. It also includes guidance on the appropriateness of transfers from one facility to another, wrote attorney Sandra Bloomenthal, and whether or not the new facility is equal to or surpasses the clinical capabilities of the sending facility.

“The transfer to the secure psychiatric unit removed (Butler) from a health care delivery system into the corrections system,” she wrote. “When the petitioner’s medical needs were the most acute, he was sent to a facility with less resources than the sending facility. An involuntary hospitalization had now become an unlawful incarceration.”

The state argued, however, that the new claims based on the emergency treatment law don’t remedy deficiencies in Butler’s original petition. The state argued that the U.S. District Court should dismiss Butler’s request because he hasn’t exhausted any state remedies.

At a rally last month, Butler’s father, Doug, said his son had 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 diagnosed with schizophrenia after police found him running in the woods and punching trees in December.