Kris Seago
Government/Political Science
Material Type:
Full Course
Academic Lower Division
Austin Community College
  • ACC Liberal Arts
    Creative Commons Attribution
    Media Formats:

    The Structure of the Texas Prison System


    The Structure of the Texas Prison System

    Learning Objectives

    By the end of this section, you will be able to:

    • Explain how the Texas jail and prison system is structured


    Texas has the largest number of incarcerated adults of the fifty states. This section examines the Texas prison structure.

    The Huntsville Unit in Huntsville TX
    Figure 12.2 Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville. Nicknamed "Walls Unit", the Huntsville Unit (HV) is operated by the Correctional Institutions Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). The facility is the oldest Texas state prison, opened in 1849. HV houses the execution chamber for the State of Texas. It is the most active execution chamber in the United States, with 563 (as of September 4, 2019) executions since 1982, when the death penalty was reinstated in Texas. Image credit: Nick DiFonzo


    A Brief History of the Texas Prison System

    Before a central state penitentiary was established in Texas, local jails housed convicted felons. In 1848, the Texas Legislature passed "An Act to Establish a State Penitentiary", which created an oversight board to manage the treatment of convicts and administration of the penitentiaries. Land was acquired in Huntsville and Rusk for later facilities.

    The Texas Prison System

    Today the Texas prison system is operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). The TDCJ provides confinement, supervision, rehabilitation, and reintegration of the state’s convicted felons. The TDCJ is responsible for statewide criminal justice for adult oenders, including managing oenders in state prisons, state jails, and private correctional facilities, funding and certain oversight of community supervision, and supervision of oenders released from prison on parole or mandatory supervision. The TDCJ operates the largest prison system in the  United States.

    This agency is run by a nine-member Texas Board of Criminal Justice (TBCJ)  that is appointed by the governor. Board members serve staggered six-year terms. The executive director, hired by the board, is responsible for developing the rules and regulations that govern the state's entire prison system. The department has its headquarters in the BOT Complex in Huntsville and oces at the Price Daniel Sr. Building in downtown Austin.

    TDCJ Today

    Texas was the first state to use private prisons. Proponents of private prisons argued that they would increase the quality of care by improving rehabilitation and reducing recidivism rates. Opponents to privatizing incarceration in Texas argue that profit incentives may put financial gain above the public interest of safety and rehabilitation.

    References and Further Reading

    NPR (2001). Huntsville Prison Blues [Podcast]. All Things Considered. Retrieved September 10, 2019.

    Texas State Library Archives Commission (n.d). Texas Prison Board: An Inventory of Records of the Texas Prison System at the Texas State Archives, 1913–1933, 1943, no date. Retrieved October 20, 2019.

    Lucko, P. (n.d.). Pope, Lawrence Chalmous. Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved October 22, 2018.

    Smith, J. (2002). Landmark Prison Oversight Case Ends. The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved October 20, 2019.

    Crouther, M. (2010). Transforming the Texas prison system.  UT News: Policy & Law. Retrieved October 23, 2019.

    Lucko, P. M. (n.d.). Prison System. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved October 20, 2019.

    Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Texas Board of Criminal Justice. Retrieved October 20, 2019.

    Ethridge, P. A. & Marquart, J. W. (1993) Private prisons in Texas: The new penology for profit. Justice Quarterly, 10:1, 29-48.

    Gotsch, K. & Basti, V. (2018). Capitalizing on Mass Incarceration: U.S. Growth in Private Prisons.