Reform & Reaction (1927-1948)
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Enter Lee Simmons
In March 1930, the board hired Lee Simmons, a prominent stockman and former sheriff of Grayson County, to take over as general manager. Simmons would become the most influential prison official since Thomas J. Goree.
Learn more about the colorful lawman Lee Simmons--once tried for murder himself--who instituted new programs designed to foster self-respect and self-discipline among the convicts.
Simmons took on the task of convincing the legislature and the public that in 1930s Texas, the prison farms, with their high costs and unskilled labor base, could never be successful as a business enterprise. The time was right: in the depths of the Depression, Simmons was able to gain funding not only for guards, housing, clothing, food, and medical care, but also for vocational training, literacy classes, and recreation.
Starting in 1931, the Prison Rodeo attracted thousands of fans to see convicts rope and ride. Photo circa 1935. Photographs, Texas Prison Rodeo Records, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
In 1930, 1,200 inmates enrolled in the literacy program. By 1935, almost 3,000 convicts were enrolled in vocational classes, including printing, electricity, refrigeration, cooking, bookkeeping, building trades, automotive, air conditioning, welding, plumbing, horticulture, and livestock. Simmons also implemented recreational programs including a library, music, sports, and a commissary where inmates could buy tobacco, candy, and personal toiletries.
Another major innovation of the 1930s was the beginning of scientific prisoner classification. Texas received a grant from the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Foundation to hire experts to assess each convict and then assign him or her into four groups ranging from those with good prospects for rehabilitation, those with more doubtful prospects, habitual criminals, and violent criminals.
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