Fear, Force, and Leather: The Texas Prison System&rsquot;s First Hundred Years 1848-1948
Introduction
Rough Beginnings, 1849-1861
War and Collapse, 1861-1871
The Lease Era, 1871-1883
Convict Leasing, 1883-1909
Scandal and Reform, 1909-1911
Perpetual Inquiry, 1911-1927
Reform and Reaction, 1927-1948
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Penalties in the Republic of Texas

 

Rough Beginnings 1848-1861

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You cannot fail to digest a code of criminal law which will not only supercede the savage practice of whipping posts, but will deter the wicked among us from violating the rights of others. – Governor George T. Wood, 1846

A Prison for Texas

Prison official on horseback

The idea of building a state prison in Texas dated back to the time of Mexican rule. But neither the Mexican government nor the Republic of Texas could ever manage to organize a penal system, much less raise the funds to construct a prison. In the meantime, local sheriffs and juries dealt with wrongdoers. The most common punishments were whipping and hanging.

In 1848, the Texas Legislature passed a law providing for the establishment of a state prison. A new penal code abolished corporal punishments and restricted the death penalty to the crimes of murder, treason, inciting a slave rebellion, and breaking and entering. Other felonies would be punishable by a prison term. To control the prison system, the governor would appoint a three-member board of directors and a superintendent to manage the day-to-day operation.

Penitentiary commissioners to Governor Wood, July 1848

Plan of the Texas penitentiary, August 1848

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Page last modified: August 22, 2011