Seven Texas prison employees face dismissal over 16-year-old inmate’s suicide
By Jolie McCullough, The Texas Tribune
“Seven Texas prison employees face dismissal over 16-year-old inmate’s suicide” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
For 24/7 mental health support in English or Spanish, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s free help line at 800-662-4357. You can also reach a trained crisis counselor through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling or texting 988, or you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741741.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is moving to fire seven employees for failing to check on a 16-year-old boy who died by suicide last month, according to a prison spokesperson.
Despite his long history of suicidal behavior in youth facilities, Joshua Keith Beasley Jr. had been transferred to the adult prison system. He was pronounced dead shortly after being found unresponsive in his cell on March 24 with a sheet tied around his neck, according to TDCJ spokesperson Jason Clark. On Monday, Clark confirmed the agency has recommended dismissing five officers, one sergeant and one lieutenant at the Wayne Scott Unit, the psychiatric prison in Fort Bend County where Beasley died.
The employees failed to “follow policy in conducting appropriate checks,” Clark said. TDCJ’s suicide prevention policy requires cell checks on prisoners deemed a suicide risk at least every 15 minutes.
“During our investigation, it was determined that there was an unacceptable level of complacency, and those checks weren’t happening as they should,” Clark said Tuesday.
As of early this month, the employees are no longer working but are still able to challenge the dismissals, Clark said. He did not give any more information, saying the agency’s review and disciplinary process is still underway.
Beasley had been sent to the adult prison system’s Youthful Offender Program in September, transferred from the Texas Juvenile Justice Department after being charged with crimes during his incarceration there, Clark said. (The Texas Tribune first wrote about Beasley’s case last summer, identifying him as Keith because he was a juvenile.)
[A mother watches helplessly as her teenage boy deteriorates in a Texas youth prison]
The teen had been incarcerated almost continuously since he was 11, first sent to TJJD after kicking a school safety officer while on probation for vandalism. During the height of the pandemic, when visitation was halted, Beasley began to hurt himself. By August, he’d been hospitalized 12 times after severely harming himself.
As of March 31, a week after Beasley’s death, there were 34 prisoners under 18 in TDCJ facilities, the agency reported. Five were 16-year-olds, serving sentences ranging from harassment of a public servant, likely in a youth prison facility, to murder.
In Texas, children can end up in the adult prison system by being certified in court as adults if they are at least 14 and the judge and prosecutor deem their crimes serious enough to warrant they be treated as adults. In 2021, 138 juveniles were certified to stand trial as adults, according to a state report.
Kids can also be sent to the adult system from TJJD after they turn 16 if the youth justice agency and a juvenile judge deem them too violent, too unengaged in programming or too disruptive within youth prisons. To be eligible for such a transfer, a teen must either have originally committed a serious offense that would likely lead to them eventually aging into TDCJ or have committed a certain crime or crimes while incarcerated in TJJD.
The latter is how Beasley found himself in the adult prison system, ultimately imprisoned on a charge of assaulting a youth prison employee.
The Youthful Offender Program is designed for male prisoners under 18 and is intended to give minors a minimum of 10 hours each week of services like education, creative expression and positive communication skills, Clark said. In February, however, Beasley was transferred within TDCJ to the Scott Unit to receive psychiatric care after attempting to harm himself.
He died a month later.
Beasley’s death was one of 16 reported suicides in TDCJ so far this year, Clark said. Last year, 52 Texas prisoners killed themselves.
Jeff Ormsby, who leads a Texas corrections officer union, said the disciplinary process for the seven employees could take months. He said the union had some concerns regarding the role short-staffing played in Beasley’s death.
As of March, TDCJ had fewer than 70% of its officer positions filled with active employees, according to a state report, down nearly 7,500 personnel. Prison understaffing in both the juvenile and adult systems played a major role in dangerous incidents last year, including skyrocketing self-harm at the youth facilities and an adult prison bus escape that led to the massacre of a family. Clark said Tuesday that the Scott Unit, however, did not have staffing concerns. He said 93% of the prison’s officer positions were filled as of last month.
“We’re hoping to get it resolved pretty quick and get at least some of these staff members their jobs back,” Ormsby said. “There are some concerns of people not doing what they’re supposed to do, but we also think some people just got tied up in a bad situation.”
We can’t wait to welcome you Sept. 21-23 to the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival, our multiday celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day’s news — all taking place just steps away from the Texas Capitol. When tickets go on sale in May, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/04/25/texas-prison-suicide-beasley/.
The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.