Nb. Do we need a “Crime & Punishment” category?
"PARIS, Texas—The letter propped up inside Joshua Keith Beasley Jr.’s casket was from his father. It was unopened. By the time it arrived at the Texas juvenile detention facility where it had been mailed, Joshua had already been transferred to an adult facility. He had just turned 16.
The state of Texas took control of Joshua’s life in 2018, when he was 11 and was incarcerated for kicking a school safety officer. (The Texas Tribune reported on Joshua’s story last year, calling him “Keith” because he was a minor. His full name is being used here at his mother’s request.)
There was a clear pattern captured in the more than 1,000 pages of suicide risk assessments performed during the almost five years Joshua was in the custody of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. It started in 2018, with him repeatedly stating that he wanted to kill himself. Then there was the tying of ligatures made of ripped shirts, underwear or sheets. According to TJJD records, he did this at least 50 times, sometimes multiple times in a single week.
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After he was charged last year with spitting on and hitting a TJJD staff member, a judge ruled that Joshua should serve an additional five-year sentence in Texas’ adult carceral system.
Joshua’s mother, Amnisty Freelen, fought to keep her son from being transferred. She begged Joshua’s public defenders to ask the court to consider his history of self-harm. She feared what would happen to her son in an adult facility. But ultimately, Joshua was moved to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Travis County State Jail in September 2022.
Almost six months to the day later, on March 24, Joshua died at TDCJ’s Wayne Scott Unit. The cause of death, according to the TDCJ Office of the Inspector General, was suicide.
In the weeks since Joshua’s death, Freelen has been disoriented by overwhelming grief and rage. Freelen does not quite believe her son died by suicide. But either way, she says, the state of Texas killed him.
“They didn’t look at the whole situation. They didn’t try to fix the brokenness,” she said. “They just broke him more.”
At the time of his death, Joshua was one of two youth under age 18 out of a total population of 500 at the Wayne Scott Unit.
Youth in adult prisons have historically been exposed to more physical and sexual violence than adult prisoners — and spend more time in solitary confinement, often placed there to separate them from adults. Children in adult facilities are 36 times more likely to die by suicide than those in juvenile facilities, according to a 2018 report by Neelum Arya, policy director at FREEAMERICA.
A TJJD spokesperson did not answer specific questions regarding Joshua, but said in a statement: “TJJD works diligently on multiple fronts to help the youth committed to us find success and return to their communities as soon as possible, with a goal of furthering their wellbeing and community safety through youth rehabilitation … No youth is transferred to TDCJ institutions without a court proceeding, in which the judge can order a transfer to TDCJ or a return to TJJD. Judges have the youth’s full file available, so they can take into account their behavior, mental health status and record of achievements while at TJJD.”
One of Joshua’s public defenders, Justin Fohn, said it can be hard to determine what to do in cases like Joshua’s, where what the child really needs is mental health care, not incarceration.
“I don’t know that the system had any other place for him,” Fohn said. “He was at TJJD — that wasn’t a good place. There’s a nationwide issue with the criminal justice system in that it’s not set up to house people that have disabilities like that. We always look at every option available to us and sometimes it comes down to there aren’t any other options available.”" Go to: Texas Imprisoned Joshua Keith Beasley Jr. When he was 11, Purportedly for his Own Good. Five Years Later, he Returned Home in a Casket. for full article.