Texas prisons

Gary Ryan was less than three months away from getting out of prison — and his family was doing everything right.

His brother-in-law lined up a job for him at his company. His nephew Corey Anderson planned to give him his old truck. Anderson also fixed up a house on a family property where his uncle could live.

Even though Texas' prison population shrank this decade, the publicly funded costs to treat inmates' medical conditions continue to rise.

The state spent over $750 million on prison health care during the 2019 fiscal year, a 53% increase from seven years earlier, when that cost was less than $500 million.

Texas is chasing its tail when it comes to collecting court fees and fines, a new study says. And that inefficiency wastes courts' time and money – and keeps poor defendants in a cycle of poverty.

The analysis out today from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University suggests Texas, a state that leads the country in incarcerations for failure to pay court debt, faces systemic challenges on the road to reform.


State leaders have recently cheered record-low unemployment rates in Texas. But the economic success has made it that much harder for the state to run a crucial agency — it can’t keep its prisons staffed.

As Summer Temperatures Climb, Most Texas Prisons Aren’t Air-Conditioned

Jun 12, 2019

In 2018, after a years-long lawsuit, the state of Texas installed air-conditioning at the Wallace Pack prison southeast of College Station, as part of a settlement with inmates. But within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system, there are just 29 facilities with air-conditioned beds.

For the eight-and-a-half years she spent in prison, Kristan Kerr looked forward to one thing every month: a visit from her daughter, Chloe. Visit by visit, she watched Chloe grow from a toddler to nearly a teenager.

"I just watched her grow all the way up," Kerr says. "One visit, she couldn't read, and then the next visit she was reading something to me."

Convicted for aggravated robbery in 2011 – she was the driver — Kerr says she wasn't making good choices back then, and it meant missing out on a lot.

Jolie McCullough / The Texas Tribune

The Texas House wants to give the state prison system $160 million more to help care for inmates. The Senate wants to cut funding.

From The Texas Tribune:

While the state's Republican leaders appear in sync on issues like school finance and property taxes, they clearly see things differently when it comes to at least one thing: prison health care.

After a recent slew of damning headlines regarding conditions within Texas prisons, reform advocates and lawmakers are hopeful that the timing is right to get legislation passed creating independent oversight of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

From Texas Standard.

Christopher Scott was sentenced to life in prison in 1997 for capital murder. He spent more than a dozen years behind bars before another man confessed to the crime and Scott was declared innocent. With his second chance at freedom, Scott teamed up with two other exonerated Texans to form a Dallas detective agency of sorts to help others who have been wrongfully convicted.

Incarcerated women in Texas have access to fewer educational and vocational programs compared to incarcerated men, a new study finds.

The study, released Tuesday by the local nonprofit Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, is the second of a two-part study that looks into the increasing numbers of incarcerated women.

KUT/Texas Tribune

Lambda Legal has settled with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in the case of Passion Star, a transgender woman who claimed prison officials didn’t protect her from sexual and physical abuse while incarcerated in male prisons.

From The Texas Tribune:

From Texas Standard.

A woman who once oversaw the youthful offenders program at a Texas prison in Brazoria alleges that “a culture of cover-up” exists at the state’s Department of Criminal Justice, or TDCJ. The would-be whistleblower told Lauren McGaughy of the Dallas Morning News that Texas teens who are placed in the program are in danger, because of a cycle of abuse. The concerns detailed by former program supervisor Dominique Mitchell have been ignored and reporting of incidents discouraged, according to Mitchell.

Texas Considers Closing Juvenile Prisons

Feb 7, 2018
Larry D. Moore / Wikimedia Commons

The State of Texas may soon close some of its state-run juvenile prisons, reports The Houston Chronicle.

The juvenile prisons have been the focus of controversy in recent months, and the newly installed executive director of the beleaguered Texas Juvenile Justice Department hopes to change that image.

Billy Hathorn / Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, HPPR reported a story about rampant abuse and neglect in Texas’s juvenile prisons.

Today, The Texas Tribune is reporting that inmates in more than 30 of Texas’s adult prisons may not have been provided with adequate heating during the brutal cold spell that recently blanketed the state.

Mitch Ames / Wikimedia Commons

The recent resurgence of Texas oil markets is causing some Texas prison guards to leave their jobs for the more lucrative work in the oilfields.

As The Houston Chronicle reports, in the last year alone, the state prison system has seen a remarkable 28 percent turnover rate.

Report: Texas prison population steadily declining

Jun 6, 2017
NC ND / Creative Commons

A new report finds that the Texas prison populace has been growing smaller, ever since reforms were instituted ten years ago.

Jay Janner / Austin American-Statesman

The death of an inmate at the Clements Unit outside of Amarillo is being investigated as a homicide, reports The Amarillo Globe News. The prisoner was initially taken to the medical clinic after an altercation with his cell mate, but medics who treated the man later said they believed he had been the victim of starvation and neglect.


Christmas was made just a little bit brighter this year for some low-income children, thanks to gifts from an unexpected source.

Some of the worst offenders in Texas prisons worked hard this holiday to crochet stuffed animals for needy kids.

The inmates made for a surprising image: These hardened men in their white prison jumpsuits, many of them muscled and heavily tattooed, bent carefully over their yarn and poking away with their crochet hooks.

James Nielsen / Houston Chronicle

A database has been made public that reveals the files of over 5,000 people who have died in police custody in Texas, reports The Houston Chronicle.

This week Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office launched an online initiative known as the Custodial Death Report database. This makes readily available the files that a police agency creates when someone dies in custody.

SCOTUS Takes Up Texas Death-Penalty Case

Dec 2, 2016
AFP/Getty Images

This week the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the death penalty in Texas. Since the U.S. made the death penalty legal again in 1976, Texas has been responsible for more than a third of the prisoners executed in America.

And, as The New Yorker reports, Texas has often put to death prisoners who would have been deemed exempt in other parts of the country due to intellectual disability.

Texas Ends Six-Month Streak Without Executions

Oct 10, 2016
Ken Piorkowsky / Flickr Creative Commons

Last week, the Lone Star State concluded a record-breaking gap in executions, reports The Houston Press.

Before last Wednesday, the State of Texas had gone six months without putting anyone to death. That’s the longest stretch without an execution since 2008. Back then, a moratorium had been called while the U.S. Supreme Court considered the legality of lethal injections.

Mike Groll / AP photo

Each US state has its own policies for what books are allowed in its prisons. But, according to quartz.com, Texas goes farther than most in censoring what inmates have access to.

Texas Prisons Must Cut $250 Million. But How?

Aug 8, 2016
Justin Dehn / Texas Tribune

The Texas prison system could slash its operating budget by about $250 million in the next few years, reports The Texas Tribune. The budget cuts come after the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was asked to trim its budget by four percent.

Database Details How People Die in Texas Custody

Aug 2, 2016
Nacho Doce / Reuters

In the period between 2005 and last year, nearly 7,000 people died while in legal custody in Texas, reports The Atlantic.

The deaths had many explanations. Some died from natural causes or suicide. Others died at the hands of other inmates or police or correctional officers.

Rose Baca / Dallas Morning News

More than 70 percent of Texas prisons don’t have air conditioning. And that’s not going change anytime soon, reports The Dallas Morning News.

In many prison cells, temperatures can climb higher than 100 degrees. But changing the situation will require the end to a years-long legal battle between prisoner advocates and Texas corrections officials.

Wrongful Imprisonments Cost Texas Taxpayers

Jun 29, 2016
Callie Richmond / Texas Tribune

Over the past 25 years over 100 men and women were wrongfully sent to prison in Texas, reports The Texas Tribune. To repair the damages caused by these wrongful convictions, those prisoners have been paid almost $100 million in taxpayer money.

Texas Disallows Social Media for Inmates

May 11, 2016
Wocintech Chat / Flickr Creative Commons

A new rule in Texas prohibits prisoners from having any access to social media, reports member station KUT. The order also families, loved ones, or advocates on the outside from maintaining social media accounts on their behalf. Critics say the rule goes too far in censoring inmates.

Texas Prisons Crowded with the Sick and Elderly

Feb 17, 2016
Danny Suarez / Texas Observer

Texas prisons are filling up with the elderly and the sick. And it’s costing the state a fortune, according to a new in-depth story by The Texas Observer. There are roughly 150,000 inmates in Texas. And more than one in six of those are over the age of 50. These are the most expensive prisoners to keep locked up. Medical and end-of-life expenses add up to some $30,000 for these elderly inmates. In some jurisdictions, housing these older prisoners can cost taxpayers as much as $68,000 per person.