Tribpedia: Texas Department Of Criminal Justice

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is the state agency responsible for managing state prisons and jails and the oversight of more than 150,000 offenders. The agency also supervises offenders released from prison on parole.

The board is composed of nine members who are appointed by the governor to staggered, six-year terms. The governor also designates one member as ...

Looking Back on a Life as a Death House Warden

Jim Willett is the director of the Texas Prison Museum and was a warden at the Walls Unit who oversaw 89 executions by lethal injection. He sits in a replica cell within the museum.
Jim Willett is the director of the Texas Prison Museum and was a warden at the Walls Unit who oversaw 89 executions by lethal injection. He sits in a replica cell within the museum.

Jim Willett had not intended to spend the better part of his adult life working in Texas’ sprawling prison system. But the business student turned prison guard worked 30 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and oversaw 89 executions. Now, a decade into his retirement, he still spends his days surrounded by mementos of lives spent behind razor wire, steel bars and thick brick walls.

TribWeek: Top Texas News for the Week of 3/21/11

M. Smith on the continuing controversy over Beaumont's school administrators, Tan on the deepening divide over the consequences of the House budget, Hamilton on the latest in the fight over higher ed accountability, Grissom on young inmates in adult prisons, Aguilar on the voter ID end game, Tan and Hasson's Rainy Day Fund infographic, Ramsey on the coming conflict over school district reserves, M. Smith and Aguilar on Laredo ISD's missing Social Security numbers, Galbraith on environmental regulators bracing for budget cuts and Ramshaw on greater scrutiny of neonatal intensive care units: The best of our best content from March 21 to 25, 2011.

Marc Mauer: The TT Interview

The national criminal justice expert on how other states have handled controversial prison closings and reduced criminal justice costs and how the Right On Crime Movement — with support from conservative leaders like Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich — might give Texas lawmakers the political freedom to be more than tough when it comes to crime.

Marc Mauer: The TT Interview

The Tribune sat down recently with national criminal justice expert Marc Mauer, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based reform advocacy group The Sentencing Project, to get his advice about how Texas can continue on its so-called 'right on crime' path even as lawmakers slice millions from the state budget. Mauer, who was in Austin for the Barbara Jordan Symposium at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs, talked about how other states have handled controversial prison closings, how others have reduced criminal justice costs and how the Right On Crime Movement — with support from conservative leaders like Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich — might give lawmakers the political freedom to be more than tough when it comes to crime.

TribWeek: Top Texas News for the Week of Mar. 14, 2011

Grissom on threats to re-entry programs for criminals, Hamilton on the tempest over the direction of UT, E. Smith's interview with Joe Straus, Stiles and Chang's new lobbying app, M. Smith and Weber on where state officeholders send their children to school, Aaronson on allowing new nuclear power plants, Aguilar on how Hispanic Republicans are handling immigration issues, Ramshaw talks abortion with Planned Parennthood's Cecile Richards, Tan and Dehn on tapping the Rainy Day Fund and Galbraith on San Antonio and its water: The best of our best content from March 14 to 18, 2011.

William Crow, Elliott Cornett and Daniel Barraza, all recently released inmates, walk away from the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas on March 4, 2011. State legislators are considering halving the $100 given to inmates upon their re-entry to society.
William Crow, Elliott Cornett and Daniel Barraza, all recently released inmates, walk away from the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas on March 4, 2011. State legislators are considering halving the $100 given to inmates upon their re-entry to society.

Out On Their Own: Re-entering Society After Prison

Sights and sounds from Huntsville when prisoners were released from the Walls Unit on March 4.

William Crow, 41, who did two years for drug possession, crouches in the shop adjoining the bus station where recently released inmates are buying new clothes, shoes and cigarettes in Huntsville, Texas on March 4, 2011.
William Crow, 41, who did two years for drug possession, crouches in the shop adjoining the bus station where recently released inmates are buying new clothes, shoes and cigarettes in Huntsville, Texas on March 4, 2011.

Budget Cuts Would Undo Prison Re-Entry Reforms

Texas legislators are considering proposals that would cut as much as $162 million from programs meant to help criminals avoid going back to prison. Criminal justice advocates say the cuts would reverse years of reforms that have helped reduce recidivism and drive down the size of the prison population.

New Day Rising: The Changing Public Policy Landscape

At the Tribune's New Day Rising symposium on Feb. 28, four public policy experts — Talmadge Helfin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Rebecca Bernhardt of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Jerel Booker of Stand for Children Texas and Eva DeLuna Castro of the Center for Public Policy Priorities — talked about criminal justice, education, health care and other issues that will be impacted by the coming Hispanic majority.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, at the 2010 Texas Democratic convention in Corpus Christi, Tex. on June 26.
State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, at the 2010 Texas Democratic convention in Corpus Christi, Tex. on June 26.

Bill Would Make Restroom Peeping a Felony

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, filed a bill today that would make it a state jail felony to "lewdly violate" a person's privacy in a place like a public restroom.

Rev. Carroll Pickett holds the world record for witnessing the most state executions as a chaplain. He saw 95 men die by lethal injection during his career as the death house chaplain.

Rev. Carroll Pickett: The TT Interview

Rev. Carroll Pickett holds the world record for witnessing the most state executions as a chaplain. He saw 95 men die by lethal injection during his career as the death house chaplain. He sat down with the Tribune recently to talk about how he "seduced the emotions" of the condemned, why his views about the death penalty changed and how he now copes with all the death he saw over the years.

TDCJ Bans Thousands of Books in State Prisons

Inmates looking to catch up on their Shakespeare are out of luck. They won't find Love & Sonnets in any Texas lock-up. The Texas Civil Rights Project released a report today on the list of 11,850 books banned by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice — everything from a collection of DaVinci's sketchbooks to the works of Salman Rushdie. Even winners of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the O. Henry Award aren't allowed. 

Dale Rudick: The TT Interview

Dale Rudick, Sugar Land's director of intergovernmental affairs, on the history of the Central Prison Unit, why the city wants it shuttered, and whether the budget crunch is actually working to Sugar Land's advantage.

Dale Rudick: The TT Interview

The Texas Tribune sat down last week to talk with Sugar Land's director of intergovernmental affairs, Dale Rudick, to talk about the history of the prison in Sugar Land and about what local officials think would be a better use of the land where it sits today.

Exonerated Men Plead for Justice System Change

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After listening to nearly two hours of emotional testimony from exonerated prisoners, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee today approved a bill meant to reform the way law enforcement officials in Texas gather and use eyewitness identification evidence.

Youth Advocates Worry Cuts Will Put More in Prison

The proposed state budgets would cut $95.6 million from the Texas Youth Commission budget in 2012-2013 and lawmakers are eying reductions in parole services, which could lead to fewer staffers and parole offices. Some youth advocates worry the cuts will mean more youths spending more time behind bars and more of them committing crimes as adults.

TribWeek: Top Texas News for the Week of 2/14/11

Ramsey, Stiles, Aguilar and Murphy makes sense of the Census data (and Stiles and Murphy interactively map the population change by county), Grissom on possible job cuts for prison chaplains, Ramshaw on whether cash-strapped Texas should be in the cancer business, Philpott on if we should dip into the Rainy Day Fund, Hamilton on the digital age dawning at Abilene Christian University, C. Smith on the concealed carry debate at community colleges, Galbraith on the fallout from the rolling blackouts, Ramsey on Texas vs. Amazon.com and M. Smith on Perry vs. Doggett: The best of our best content from Feb. 14 to 18, 2011.

Prison chaplains meet at 1st Baptist church before heading to Texas Capitol to speak to lawmakers on Wednesday.
Prison chaplains meet at 1st Baptist church before heading to Texas Capitol to speak to lawmakers on Wednesday.

Texas Prison Chaplains Pray, Plead for Funds

Chaplains have been a part of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice since at least 1910, providing spiritual guidance and programs for inmates and for guards who have the stressful job of managing them. Under the proposed House budget, the state's $4.8 million prison chaplaincy program would be cut to zero, and all 121 prison chaplains in Texas would lose their jobs.

Texas Is "On the Brink," Legislative Study Group Says

Texas' superlatives are nothing to brag about, according to the fifth edition of "Texas on the Brink," an annual review that ranks the state on dozens of factors ranging from health insurance to voter turnout. Despite having the highest birth rate, Texas has the worst rate of women with health insurance. While the state has the second-highest public school enrollment, it ranks last in the percentage of people 25 and older with a high school diploma. And though Texas has the highest percent of its population without health insurance, the state is 49th in per capita spending on Medicaid.

Amy Lynn Cowling's mother, Vicki Bankhead, talks about the death of her daughter in the office of the family's attorney, Jarom Tefteller.
Amy Lynn Cowling's mother, Vicki Bankhead, talks about the death of her daughter in the office of the family's attorney, Jarom Tefteller.

Woman's Death One of Many in Troubled Texas Jail

Amy Lynn Cowling was 33, she had three children and she became a grandmother a day after she died in an East Texas jail. Her death is just the most recent at the Gregg County Jail in Longview. Interviews and public documents reveal a troubled facility, where the staff turnover rate is unusually high and inmates report shoddy medical care. Criminal justice advocates say the facility is representative of problems that plague local jails statewide.