The Texas Justice System Fails an 11-Year-Old Boy

family members mourning a child that died in the Texas juvenile justice system

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According to The Texas Tribune, Joshua Keith Beasly Jr., just sixteen years old, died earlier this year after a long journey through Texas’ criminal justice system. Joshua was incarcerated in 2018 at the age of eleven for kicking a school safety officer. The incarceration was purportedly for the child’s own good, but the unfolding story since that time is nothing short of tragic.

If your child is facing a criminal charge, the consequences can be more severe than you could imagine. Don’t wait to secure the seasoned legal guidance of an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney.

“They Just Broke Him More”

Joshua’s mother summed up the dire situation with these sad words: “They didn’t try to fix the brokenness. They just broke him more.” At the time of the boy’s death, he had been transferred to an adult facility and was only one of two youths under the age of 18 in the unit’s population of 500.

Suicide Risk

Joshua’s five-year tenure at a Texas juvenile detention facility led to a clear pattern of risk related to suicide, including 1,000 pages of assessment that identified this ever-present concern.

According to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department’s (TJJD) records, the boy repeatedly shared that he wanted to kill himself. He attempted to do so using ligatures made from ripped clothing and sheets at least 50 separate times – sometimes more than once in a single week. Sometimes, Joshua’s face went red or gray by the time the staff arrived to cut the ligatures from his neck.

The reports indicate that Joshua’s focus on harming himself increased when he wasn’t allowed to communicate with his parents and around the holidays. TJJD extrapolated, however, that Joshua turned to self-harm as a means of getting his way due to an inability to tolerate frustration.

Other youths that came out of the TJJD system share that self-harm isn’t uncommon and is often the only mechanism for generating any semblance of care from the staff.

“So Young”

Another young man, Blake Crenshaw, was incarcerated at the TJJD facility with Joshua, and he witnessed the cycle of self-harm and violence that ensnared the younger boy. They grew close because they were both from the small town of Paris, Texas, and had friends and acquaintances in common.

Blake, as well as most of the other boys in the facility, was several years older than Joshua, who was 13 at the time. Blake stated, “Joshua was so young, so obviously, he was a target for a lot of things.”

Keep your child out of the juvenile justice system with the help of a Killeen criminal defense lawyer. Contact us at (254) 781-4222 to get answers to your questions.

Treatment by Staff

According to Blake, cruel treatment by staff drove many of the boys to act out. He reports that they were often locked in their cells for long stretches of time, which took a toll on their mental health. However, it was the verbal abuse that seemed to trigger Joshua.

The staff’s approach was to berate the incarcerated boys with harsh taunts and insults. Because Joshua was so young, he didn’t have the resources – in Blake’s estimation – to process the treatment. This treatment caused him to erupt in anger, which often led to mouthing off or engaging physically – ultimately leading to him being restrained.

According to Blake, the staff’s actions only became more severe.

Transferred to an Adult Facility

In 2022, Joshua was charged with hitting and spitting on a staff member at the TJJD facility, and the judge who heard his case tacked on a five-year sentence in an adult facility.

His mother feared what would happen to Joshua in jail and begged his public defenders to remind the court of his compelling history of self-harm. Unfortunately, her protestations fell on deaf ears, and in September of last year, Joshua was moved to Travis County State Jail.

Six brief months later, Joshua was found dead. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Office of the Inspector General deemed his death a suicide. Joshua’s mother is not convinced her son died by suicide, but either way, she places the blame for his death squarely on the State of Texas.

Dire Statistics

Youth who are incarcerated in adult prisons are at considerably greater risk of suffering physical and sexual abuse than adult prisoners are. They’re also more likely to spend significant time in solitary confinement. Consider the following statistics shared by the National Juvenile Justice Network:

  • About 250,000 children are tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults in this country every year.

  • Every day in this country, about 10,000 children are detained or incarcerated in adult jails and prisons.

  • Children held in adult facilities are 36 times more likely to die by suicide than other prisoners.

  • Children who are incarcerated in adult facilities are the prisoners who are most likely to be sexually victimized.

In the 1960s, some of the harshest criminal justice policies were established, and 49 states altered their statutes so more minors could be tried as adults. However, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention find that transferring minors to the adult criminal system does not protect society and significantly increases the risk of recidivism.

As you can see, the consequences of a juvenile conviction can be very serious. Protect your child by working closely with a Killeen criminal defense attorney.

Throwing Kids Away

According to an article in The Texas Tribune, the five youth prisons operating in Texas are attempting to restore order by requesting that judges move some of the most challenging minors into the adult system.

Some lawmakers and prosecutors agree with this request, taking the position that transferring the most troubled and violent juvenile offenders to adult facilities frees up space and resources for other juvenile detainees. However, youth justice advocates call it giving up on the kids who need help the most.

The Conditions

The dwindling workforce in the youth facilities in Texas in 2022 left juveniles locked in their cells, which are often windowless, for up to 23 hours a day. This abandonment left them with no choice but to use their lunch trays and water bottles as toilets.

During this historic staffing crisis, many athletic activities were canceled, classes were swapped out for work packets, and detainees ate in their prison dorms rather than in the cafeteria.

Isolation is known to exacerbate mental health concerns, and almost half of the almost 600 juveniles held in TJJD facilities did at least one stint on suicide watch in 2022. In order to address this problem, TJJD is attempting to rid itself of the most disruptive detainees by funneling them into adult facilities.

Failing in a Failing System

It’s not just those deemed the most dangerous who are being jettisoned. Children with serious mental health concerns and victims of sex trafficking also tend to land in the adult system. In other words, those who are most in need of help and most likely to be triggered by the verbal assaults of the staff in adult correctional facilities are the most likely to find themselves in these exceptionally inhospitable environments.

It’s important to note that the goal of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation and treatment for the detained children. On the other hand, the adult criminal justice system's mission is punishment. Reform advocates maintain that children who fail in what is undeniably a failing system shouldn’t be discarded.

The Backstory

Of the almost 600 incarcerated juveniles in the TJJD system in 2022, 51 were transferred to adult facilities under the approval of juvenile court judges. This number is up from 29 transfers in 2021. Most of the transfers in 2022 involved minors who had committed crimes and were about to age out of the juvenile system, which happens at 19.

Consider these numbers related to recent transfers:

  • Twelve of the juveniles transferred last year were under the age of eighteen, which is more than twice the number transferred in 2021.

  • Six of these twelve juveniles were sent to adult corrections to complete their original sentences for serious charges because TJJD determined that they were either too violent, too disruptive, or not engaged enough to remain in rehabilitative programming.

  • The other six were originally incarcerated for lesser charges but were transferred to adult facilities after reoffending in the juvenile system. Most of the offenses were for assaulting or harassing a prison officer, which can include everything from physical attacks to spitting on staff members.

Treating Those in Need

The policy director of the Texas Center for Justice and Equity, Alycia Castillo, stated, “We really are just using TDCJ to throw kids away” instead of providing those who are most in need, like Joshua, with help. Locking up a child and forgetting about them in an adult prison does not serve their needs or societal goals.

Castillo shares that Joshua’s story tragically highlights exactly why juveniles should not be entrusted to TDCJ. In fact, she reports that TJJD pushed him into the adult system, and the adult system left him alone to die.

Determining Transfer to Adult Facilities

In Texas’ criminal justice system, 17-year-olds are considered adults. As such, TJJD doesn’t always have the final say concerning the fate of juvenile detainees who’ve committed a new crime while in detention. Prosecutors have the legal right to levy adult charges against those who are 16 and older who commit crimes in TJJD – whether the department agrees or not.

No matter the age of your child, you need a criminal defense attorney if he or she is facing criminal charges. Contact a Killeen criminal defense attorney for skilled guidance through your child’s case.

Dwindling Numbers in Juvenile Detention Centers

Since 2007, Texas has significantly decreased the number of juvenile detainees in the TJJD system. The total population in juvenile prisons has decreased from around 5,000 detainees to fewer than 600. Those that remain are in the system because they committed a felony, and authorities determined that rehabilitation at the local level wasn’t possible – often due to violent tendencies, mental health concerns, or both.

Castillo points out that TJJD contradicts itself when it says it needs to send the most challenging juvenile detainees to adult facilities in order to keep them from ruining things for others in the juvenile system while also maintaining that juvenile facilities are reserved for the most violent offenders.

The Two Paths Toward Transfer to Adult Facilities

Juvenile detainees have two paths toward transfer to the adult system, and both are something of a slippery slope.

A Determinate Sentence

When a juvenile is incarcerated for a serious crime, such as aggravated robbery, it generally leads to what is called a determinate sentence, which can be extended to up to 40 years. Before aging out of the juvenile system at 19, the juvenile’s original convicting judge is called upon to determine if their sentence should be finished in the adult system or on parole.

Very few teen detainees with determinate sentences have been released on parole since 2018, and TJJD can request that a youth be transferred to the adult system at any point after they turn 16.

An Indeterminate Sentence

Indeterminate sentences are more common than determinate sentences, and they specify juvenile offenders’ minimum stays, which are generally from about nine months to two years. Outside of this parameter, detainees are released when those in charge determine they are rehabilitated and no longer pose a risk to themselves or society.

However, indeterminate sentences can easily morph into determinate sentences when certain charges are levied within the TJJD system. Further, TJJD has considerable discretion in these matters, which means incarceration in an adult facility is far more than just a remote possibility.

Turn to an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney for the Help You Need

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a compassionate criminal defense attorney who is committed to fiercely advocating for the legal rights of juveniles facing criminal charges – in focused pursuit of advantageous outcomes.

For more information about how we can help, please contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 today.

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