Texas Department of Corrections:
An Inventory of Department of Corrections Administrative Correspondence and Subject Files at the Texas State Archives, 1961-1962, 1967-1969, 1974-1976
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.
The TDCJ is composed of the following divisions: Administrative Review and Risk Management, General Counsel, Community Justice Assistance, Correctional Institutions, Private Facility Contract Monitoring/Oversight, Parole, Rehabilitation and Reentry Programs, Health Services, Victim Services, Human Resources and the Texas Correctional Office on Offenders with Medical or Mental Impairments. The departments within the Business and Finance Division report directly to the Chief Financial Officer. Additionally, the Chief Financial Officer provides oversight for the Manufacturing and Logistics Division, the Information Technology Division and the Facilities Division. The State Counsel for Offenders Division, Internal Audit Division, the Office of the Inspector General and the Windham School District report directly to the TBCJ. Direct management of the prison system is through an executive director, with each division headed by a director and each individual prison unit managed by a warden.
The prison system has changed since the 1900s. A major penal reform program was initiated in 1947, modernizing agricultural production, initiating industrial production by inmates, and providing improvements in physical facilities for inmates and employees. A Construction Division was created in 1948 to make use of inmate labor, prison-made brick, and concrete for new building projects. In 1963, the Prison-Made Goods Act authorized an Industries Program to produce materials for internal use and for sale to qualified agencies in the state while providing occupational skills training to inmates. Other services available to inmates include education, recreation, religion, and physiological and psychological health care. The Windham School District was created in 1969 to offer GED certificates or high school diplomas to inmates. Junior college and senior college classes are available. Rehabilitation programs offer vocational training, work furlough programs, and community services to aid inmates in securing work upon release and making the adjustment and transition into society. Legal services are also available to inmates through the Office of the General Counsel.
In 1978, a class action suit was filed by inmate David Ruiz and others on behalf of the inmates confined in the various institutions operated by the Texas Department of Corrections against the director W.J. Estelle, Jr. and the Texas Department of Corrections. The courts found the conditions of confinement violated the United States Constitution and appointed a special master and monitors to supervise implementation of the court-ordered changes. These changes have included reduction of crowding in the prisons and the development of better living, health, and working conditions for inmates. Federal oversight of the Texas prison system ended in 2002.
(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 Department of Corrections (now the Texas Department of Criminal Justice) 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. These are administrative correspondence and subject files from the executive director's office, dating 1961-1962, 1967-1969, 1974-1976. The earlier files primarily cover the period when Dr. George Beto served as director, from 1962 to 1972; the 1974-1976 files are from the term of W.J. Estelle, Jr. Materials found within these files include incoming and outgoing correspondence, memoranda, acknowledgements, invitations, directives to farm or program managers, clippings, graduation materials for inmates receiving their GED (announcements, programs, speaking invitations, etc.), and a self-study report on the Windham School District. The most extensively covered topics in these records include agriculture production and education. Other issues covered to a lesser degree, mainly in the miscellaneous correspondence files, include alcoholic counseling, building a prison in West Texas, complaints about conditions, victim compensation, prisoner exchanges with Mexico, the prison rodeo, and choosing a new director for the prison in 1962. Correspondents include the executive director, assistant directors, wardens, other state agencies, local officials, universities, and the general public.
These records represent only a small part of the directors' files that were briefly inspected by an archivist in 1995 on site in Huntsville. At that time, there were an estimated 80 to 100 cubic feet of similar records from the office, dating about 1960-1980s. When this series was reviewed again in 1997, most of the records present in 1995 had been destroyed. The materials remaining are clearly incomplete: one group of records dates from 1961 to 1962, 1967 to 1969 and covers A-F of the filing system, and the other group of two cubic feet of loose materials contains mostly unfoldered materials from 1974 to 1976.
Four other administrative correspondence series can be found in the overall Texas Department Criminal Justice finding aid ( Texas Department of Criminal Justice records): Administrative correspondence, Board of Corrections; Administrative correspondence, insanity of inmates; Administrative correspondence, Assistant Director for Special Services; and Administrative files, Deputy Director; containing records from the 1950s to the 1980s. Another series, Administrative policy files, contains directives and policies from the 1960s-1980s, similar to the ones found in these records, but of a more administrative nature.
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.
Restrictions on Access
Materials do not circulate, but may be used in the State Archives search room. Materials will be retrieved from and returned to storage areas by staff members.
Restrictions on Use
Most records created by Texas state agencies are not copyrighted and may be freely used in any way. State records also include materials received by, not created by, state agencies. Copyright remains with the creator. The researcher is responsible for complying with U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17 U.S.C.).
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