NH prison being investigated for treatment of mental health patients

CONCORD, N.H. — The U.S. Department of Justice is now investigating a New Hampshire prison where people under state treatment for mental health illnesses are imprisoned with convicted criminals.

"We've been treating people with mental illness as though they're prisoners and not patients," said NH Rep. Renny Cushing.

For a decade, New Hampshire State Representative Renny Cushing has been fighting a policy that puts people civilly committed for mental health inside a secure psychiatric unit in a prison.

"I think there's an emerging consensus in the state of New Hampshire that we have to close down the secure psychiatric unit and build a forensic hospital," said Cushing.

Earlier this year, Boston 25 News followed Andrew Butler's legal battle to be released from the Secure Psychiatric Unit after he was transferred there without his consent while undergoing treatment for schizophrenia.

>> 'They call it treatment, but it's not': NH man sent to prison for schizophrenia to be released

Rep. Cushing believes Butler's case - and other lawsuits against the State Department of Corrections - are finally effecting change.

"We see movement on many fronts," said Cushing.

The State Department of Health and Human Services has taken control of the SPU from the DOC and submitted a request for information on proposals to build a 100-bed forensic hospital.

"I'm hoping we are turning the corner here in New Hampshire," said Cushing.

But the most surprising development came when Cushing contacted the United States Dept. of Justice with his concerns about the SPU.

Cushing filed a complaint citing civil rights violations of SPU patients. DOJ officials responded saying they have an "ongoing law enforcement proceeding" at the prison.

"My reaction was, I'm glad there's an investigation going on," said Cushing.

After so many years of fighting, an unexpected Christmas gift for him and the families of those stuck behind the walls.

"I'm hoping that 2019 will be a positive year," said Cushing.