Fear, Force, and Leather - The Texas Prison System's First Hundred Years, 1848-1948


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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Scandal and Reform (1909-1911)

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Yet, given a system of irresponsible appointments, where special qualifications count for little and political pull is the all-important consideration ... what could we expect? – Editorial, Dallas Morning News, 1909

Men hauling sugar cane

Hauling sugar cane on a prison farm (no date). Prints and Photographs Collection, 1976/31-168.

Notably absent from the list was prison reform. A major legislative investigation in 1902 had uncovered an abnormally high number of both escapes and deaths at the work farms. In fact, a convict assigned to a contract work farm could expect to live a mere seven years due to the grueling labor, unsanitary conditions, and the likelihood of being shot by guards. The committee recommended that convict leasing be abolished, but the findings were dismissed by the governor, legislature, and the public as impractical. Prisoners should work hard and serve as a source of revenue, not an expense to law-abiding taxpayers. While a few progressive and labor groups, women’s clubs, and African-American politicians in the Republican party continued to speak up, no one expected prison reform to wind up on the legislative docket any time soon.



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Page last modified: August 22, 2019