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“Narrative of Neglect: Texas Prisons for Men” highlights the progress and injustices in Texas Department of Corrections from its inception to 2011 (Price, & Coleman, 2011). It is nearly two centuries since the creation of the Texas prison system, however there have been 37 changes in leadership. This article details the evolution undertaken by the prison system, complete with highlights and low points since its creation, which includes landmark cases such as Ruiz v. Estelle, that defined and reinstated the rights of inmates.
Texas, in 1987, enforced compliance with steep daily fines for infractions. This was due to the misrepresentation, cover-up, corruption, and unwillingness to change the current practices involving inmates. The article also frames what amounts to inmate slavery with its use of an unpaid inmate driven work force. Texas prison system has had two major reformers who impacted prisons for the betterment of both inmates and staff. All of this culminates in the prison system we see at work today.
The first major reform was made when the Penitentiary Act passed in 1846 and dictated a need for a new prison, in which Huntsville was selected and later opened in 1849 with three inmates. Leadership, in an effort to keep operational costs down, began using inmates as laborers, however, unhealthy living conditions and heavy discipline practices forced many to go to extremes to escape the situation. In 1876, 3.5% of the population died and another 22% escaped (Martin, & Ekland-Olson, 1987).
The Huntsville state penitentiary was commonly known as “The Walls,” and conditions were unsafe as conditions harbored maltreatment and malnutrition. The statement, “banishment from civilized society to a dark and evil world completely alien to the free world,” iterates the mistreatment and voiceless society in the criminal justice system (Holt v. Sarver, 1970). Leasing out convicts was used as a means to pay for taking care of them but ended in 1910.
A reformer in 1878 was found in Superintendent Thomas Goree. He brought education and libraries to prisons. He improved classification practices to separate those first time and vulnerable offenders from hardened criminals. He also instituted the use of “good time,” which gave incentive for inmates to behave and make use of classes available to them. This was a step undertaken for humane treatment of inmates in the state of Texas.
Afflicted with investigations nearly every other year garnered the need to improve prison image. A rodeo, baseball team, choir and radio show were used to help combat the negative results of investigations of the prison system. In 1944, Austin MacCormick investigated the system and found inhumane conditions, need of more and better trained personnel, and low production due to outdated farming techniques were rampant. The governor in 1948 appointed O.B. Ellis to reform Texas prisons in what came to be known as the “Ellis Plan.” He pushed for rehabilitation and better conditions not only for inmates, but also staff. Brutal and corrupt staff were fired, and greater benefits granted to the remaining staff. He was able to see the problem first-hand and addressed all of the underlying issues, consequently he died while holding his position.
In 1974, Ruiz v. Estelle brought about prison reform by way of what is termed “jailhouse lawyers”. Problematic inmates pushing for their civil rights put forth many complaints and were housed together. The judge acknowledged confinement in Texas prisons was “cruel and unusual punishment” and a violation of the Eighth Amendment. In his ruling overcrowding, security, healthcare, discipline, and access to court were addressed. In 1987, seven years after the ruling, compliance was made mandatory with stiff fines for failure. This made an impact on prisons due to oversight, transparency, and the voice of inmates to fight for their rights.
The journal article, “Narrative of Neglect: Texas Prisons for Men” was published in the East Texas Historical Journal in the fall of 2011. It was authored by a retired Texas Prison Warden, J. Keith Price, and Susan Coleman, a political science and criminal justice professor. They analyze historically the steps in the transformation of the prison system to its current condition. The evolution from its inception is marked with heroes for inmate treatment and sheds light on the negative aspects that plague the system. There is a push for better correctional policy aimed at emphasizing treatment and rehabilitation to readers. It ends with a fear and realization that neglect and mistreatment is creeping back into the Texas Department of Corrections.
This article is geared at an audience that seeks equality and wants reform for the betterment of not only inmates, but their respective communities upon the release of inmates breaking the cycle of recidivism. The fact that one of the authors is a retired Texas prison warden garners more credibility as his experiences become his sources. He noted that in his last year as warden he had to lay off one-third of the educators and all drug counselors. He views this as backwards and a step back to inmate neglect. His coauthor is professor who authored other papers on criminal justice issues, hence making their collaboration more effective.
The evidence given in this process of prison reform is believed to be of credible sources and unbiased due to the focus on the positive and negative aspects of prison reform. Statistics were corroborated with other sources, and there was not blatant bias throughout the discourse. The authors’ argument of prison reform has come a long way for humane treatment for inmates, yet more needs to be done to prevent regression to old patterns of neglect. Upon further research there are recent prison work boycotts due to maltreatment and no compensation, albeit pennies on the dollar. Another noted issue that was not addressed in detail was the issue of overcrowding, yet economics of prison dealings was motioned nearly on each page.
Interestingly media involvement played a part in prison reform. There was mention of San Antonio Express and The Houston Chronicle that both achieved rapid reform. This brings about a possible oversight function of regular media coverage inside prisons. This may thwart inhumane treatment by granting transparency to not only a selective audience in an oversight committee, but the general public.
Another impact this article has is the cornerstone industry plays in prison system. Everything is a business, and the Texas Department of Corrections is no different. Compensation of some profit would grant civil rights violations of inmate slavery. This correlate could transform compensation rights for inmates if brought to legislation, but they need a platform. An opportunistic idea would be to have media and politicians push for the issues at hand and grant pay for work rendered.
In conclusion, the authors effectively spotlight the effective change on the prison sytems through the use of statistics and engaging the audience with anecdotes and first-hand accounts. The push for rehabilitation being the key argument in this discourse makes logical sense as it was interspersed throughout the article. The first-hand account of layoffs in education give the lasting impression that inmates deserve the rehabilitation and educational programs, despite their infractions of the law. I agree with Professors Keith and Price in the need for intervention once more to prevent failure of our prison system to revert to patterns of neglect.
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