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Fear, Force, and Leather: The Texas Prison System&rsquot;s First Hundred Years 1848-1948


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Thomas J. Goree (1835-1905)

Thomas J. Goree to Sergeants in charge of convict camps, April 1880

Thomas J. Goree was one of the most significant figures in the development of Texas prisons. Born in Alabama, Goree moved to Huntsville, Texas with his family at the age of 15. He attended Baylor College and became an attorney in Montgomery and Houston. During the Civil War, he joined the Confederate army and served throughout the war as aide-de-camp to General James Longstreet. After the war, he tried his hand at several businesses before moving back to Huntsville in 1873, where he began learning about prison issues through his involvement with a law firm that represented Ward-Dewey. In 1874, Governor Richard Coke appointed Goree to the board of directors of the Texas State Prison, and Governor Richard Hubbard selected him as supervisor in 1877.

Goree proved to be a committed and dedicated public servant, reaching far outside the boundaries of Texas to broaden his knowledge of penology and criminology. He was the first Texas prison official to join the National Prison Association. Through his correspondence with officials in other states, Goree became an advocate of the indeterminate sentence, good time rules, and the building of a separate institution for juvenile offenders. This idea came to fruition in 1889, when Texas opened a facility for youth offenders in Gatesville, the first of its kind in the southern United States.

Goree adopted a new approach to punishments inside "The Walls." While the harsher punishments such as whipping, the stocks, and the dark cell were still used in Goree’s time, he ruled with a light hand, punishing minor offenses with verbal reprimands or withholding privileges. But Goree was no bleeding heart. He clamped down on escapes by requiring shackles for prisoners on outside work gangs.

In 1891, Governor James Hogg declined to reappoint Goree as prison superintendent, selecting instead one of his own political supporters. In his later years, Goree practiced corporate law in Galveston. He survived the great Galveston hurricane of 1900, dying five years later at the age of 70.

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Page last modified: February 10, 2016