Texas State Penitentiary, Board of Commissioners:
An Inventory of Penitentiary Board Monthly Reports at the Texas State Archives, 1881-1883
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) manages offenders in state prisons, state jails and contracted private correctional facilities. The agency also provides funding and certain oversight of community supervision and is responsible for the supervision of offenders released from prison on parole or mandatory supervision. The Department of Criminal Justice came into being in 1848 when "An Act to Establish a State Penitentiary" was passed by the Second Texas Legislature. The act established a governing body of the penitentiary as a three-member Board of Directors, appointed by the Governor, with the approval of the Senate. The Board was responsible for creating and distributing a set of rules and bylaws for the administration of the penitentiary, overseeing the treatment of convicts, preparing an annual inventory of property, and making an annual report to the Governor. Over the years, the name and composition of the Board changed. While its basic functions were not greatly altered, some duties were added. These included acquiring land for the Huntsville and Rusk facilities, purchasing machinery, effecting repairs, leasing the penitentiaries, leasing convicts for outside labor, purchasing and/or leasing farms for the employment of convicts, and providing for the transfer of convicts from county jails to the penitentiary. During the 19th century the direct management of the prison was through the inspector, later known as the superintendent. Other officers included assistant superintendents, inspectors of outside camps, the financial agent, and physicians. The superintendent and financial agent had the most direct dealings with the Board and the Governor in the management of the prison system.
The Texas prison system began as a single institution, located in Huntsville, known as the Huntsville Penitentiary. Convicts were put to work in various shops and factories housed within the institution. In 1871, the legislature directed that the penitentiary be leased to private individuals (Chapter 21, 12th Legislature, 1st Called Session). These men, known as lessees, paid the state for the convict labor and use of facilities, and in turn, managed the system, including clothing and feeding the convicts and paying the guards. It was during this period that the outside camp system was firmly established as part of the prison system. In addition to the use of convicts in and around the prison, the convicts were hired out to large labor employers, mainly plantation owners and railroad companies. A second prison facility, Rusk Penitentiary, was built between 1877 and 1882. It began receiving convicts in January of 1883.
In 1881, the Legislature reorganized the prison system, abolishing the Board of Directors, and creating in its place a Penitentiary Board, consisting of the governor, the state treasurer, and the prison superintendent (Chapter 49, 17th Legislature, Regular Session). In April 1883, the administrative system was again reorganized, with the board comprised of the governor and two commissioners appointed by the governor (Chapter 114, 18th Legislature, Regular Session). In 1885, the board composition changed once more, now consisting of three commissioners appointed by the governor (House Bill 562, 19th Legislature, Regular Session). This board was succeeded by the Board of Prison Commissioners in 1910, which was composed of three commissioners appointed by the governor (Senate Bill 10, 31st Legislature, 4th Called Session). The legislation that created the new board also directed the prison system to begin operating again on state account, i.e., lessees no longer managed the prison system, effective in January 1911. Convicts, or inmates, were housed and worked in one of the two prisons or on one of several state prison farms. The shop industries slowed down while the prison farms expanded. This arrangement made it more difficult to provide education and other reform measures. Such measures were generally practiced at Huntsville, with some teaching extended to a couple of prison farms by the early 1900s.
The Texas Prison Board replaced the Board of Prison Commissioners as the governing body for the Texas Prison System in 1927, increasing in size to nine members (House Bill 59, 40th Legislature, Regular Session). The members of the board were appointed by the governor, with senate approval, to six year overlapping terms. The Board formulated the policies and the manager carried them out. During the Board's tenure, 1927-1957, the Board made changes in the system including more emphasis on prison reform, teaching, recreation--including the establishment of the Texas Prison Rodeo--and a new method of classifying inmates. The Texas Prison System became the Department of Corrections in 1957 (Senate Bill 42, 55th Legislature, Regular Session). This Department was governed by the Board of Corrections, composed of nine members appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the senate to six year overlapping terms.
In 1989, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and the Board of Criminal Justice were created (House Bill 2335, 71st Legislature, Regular Session). The Board is composed of nine members appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the senate to six year overlapping terms. The governor may not appoint more than two members who reside in an area encompassed by the same administrative judicial region. This new agency absorbed the functions of three agencies: the Department of Corrections, the Board of Pardons and Paroles, and the Texas Adult Probation Commission. The Department of Corrections, which was responsible for the operation of the prison system, is now the Institutional Division of the Department of Criminal Justice. This Division still manages the housing of inmates within the prison system. As of June 2007, approximately 151,960 offenders were housed in TDCJ units or state jails and 13,195 in private facilities.
(Sources include: Guide to Texas State Agencies, various editions, the website of the agency ( http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/index.htm), viewed on May 11, 2009, and the agency's records.)
The Texas State Penitentiary Board of Commissioners was responsible for overseeing the treatment of convicts, preparing an annual inventory of property, purchasing land for the penitentiaries, purchasing machinery, effecting repairs, leasing the penitentiaries, leasing convicts for outside labor, purchasing and/or leasing farms for the employment of convicts, and providing for the transfer of convicts from county jails to the penitentiary. Records are monthly reports prepared by the superintendent of the state penitentiary for the governor bound in a letterpress book and date from May 1881 to November 1883. The superintendent reported to the governor biennially and at the end of each month on the condition at the state penitentiary. The monthly reports consist of a cover letter to the governor giving a brief narrative summary of the activities over the past month and several statistical tables, including the number of convicts received; lists of convicts discharged, pardoned, escaped, recaptured, died, and hospitalized; clothing and other provisions issued; transportation vouchers paid; and the number of convicts on hand during the month, including a breakdown by location. The data reported includes the state penitentiary and all the outside camps where convicts were housed.
Beginning in 1883, data is provided for Rusk penitentiary. Following the February 1882 monthly report is a lengthy narrative on the conditions at the penitentiary, seemingly written as part of the biennial report to the Governor. The writing is badly faded and cannot be read in places. At the back of the volume are pages listing United States prisoners housed in the state penitentiary in 1882 and 1883.
Additional monthly statistics on the convicts received and discharged, and on the classification of convicts, or inmates, can be found in the overall Texas Department of Criminal Justice finding aid, in the series Statistical record ledgers. Letter copies of the monthly reports that were sent by the superintendent to the governor during the period circa 1875-1882, can be found in a collection of records held by the Archives and Information Services Division, Records Relating to the Penitentiary, in the series, Reports, Superintendent. Later monthly reports, dating 1914-1916 and 1931-1932, can be found in the overall TDCJ finding aid, in the series Texas Prison Board monthly reports.
This series was removed from the overall TDJC finding aid due to the electronic file size limitations imposed by the online finding aid web site (TARO). If you are reading this electronically, click on the following link to access the overall finding aid, Texas Department of Criminal Justice records If you are reading this in paper in the Archives search room, this finding aid is found in a separate divider within the same binder.
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This letterpress volume cannot be photocopied because of its fragile condition.
(Identify the item), Texas State Penitentiary, Board of Commissioners monthly reports. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Accession number: 1998/038
These records were transferred to the Archives and Information Services Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on November 17, 1997.
Processed by Laura K. Saegert, October 1999
DACS compliance and series formatted into a separate finding by Laura K. Saegert, July 2009
These records were appraised as archival by staff of the Texas State Archives in August 1998. The appraisal report can be found in the search room of the State Archives. The online version of the report for this series is available at http://www.tsl.state.tx.us/arc/appraisal/tdcj.html.
Detailed Description of the Records