Convict Leasing and State Account Farming (1883-1909)
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Top Men Bring a Good Price
At first, the state charged the farms different rates depending on the value of the crop raised. Sugar plantations paid the highest rate, $17 per month for a fit young field hand ($387 in 2009 dollars). Cotton plantations paid $16.50 a month, while farms growing corn paid $15.50. Eventually, the state divided their workers into two tiers and charged a premium for the best hands. By 1908, first-class workers — young, fit, and usually African-American — commanded $31 a month ($707 in 2009 dollars). Second-class workers—older, slower, or white or Hispanic—brought in $29 ($661 in 2009 dollars).
These 1903 Penitentiary Board minutes detail work contracts allocated by race.
The advantage for the farms was not the price, which was only slightly less than the prevailing wages for law-abiding citizens. The attraction of convict leasing was the ability to purchase guaranteed numbers for workers who could not walk off the job, demand better wages or working conditions, or complain about bad treatment. Overall revenues for the state rose from $175,000 per biennium in the first years of convict lease ($3.9 million in 2009 dollars) to $460,000 ($11.3 million in 2009 dollars) by 1900.
Learn More - the Role of Race in Sentencing and Treatment
African-Americans made up 20 percent of the population of Texas, but about half of the prison population. Learn more about the role of race in the sentencing and treatment of Texas convicts.
Learn More - Women Prisoners and the Conditions They Faced
What about the women? In the early days of the Texas prison system, the number of female prisoners was very small. By the turn of the century, the number of female convicts had risen to 130. Learn more about the women prisoners and the conditions they faced.
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