Skip to content

How Many Prisons Are in Texas?

Texas has one of the largest prison populations and the most prisons of any U.S. state. As of 2023, there are over 140 state prisons, private prisons, federal prisons, and other detention facilities located throughout Texas.

Contents show

History of the Texas Prison System

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) oversees all state-run adult correctional facilities in Texas. The origins of the Texas prison system date back to 1848, when the state opened its first penitentiary in Huntsville.

In the decades that followed, the TDCJ expanded to operate additional facilities across Texas to house the state’s growing inmate population. Significant growth periods for the Texas prison system included:

  • 1867-1882: Texas constructed six new state prisons.
  • 1910s-1920s: The state added several new units focused on housing youth and women prisoners.
  • 1980s-1990s: Texas opened over 20 new prison facilities in response to harsher sentencing laws and the War on Drugs.

Today, the majority of TDCJ prisons are located in rural areas across Texas. Most state facilities were built between 1950-2000.

Total Number of Prisons in Texas

There are 108 state-run prisons in Texas under the authority of TDCJ as of 2023. This includes:

  • 87 male prison units
  • 10 female prison units
  • 2 co-gender units
  • 9 transfer facilities

Here is the total number of prisons in Texas by type:

Prison TypeNumber of Facilities
State-Run Prisons108
Private Prisons11
Federal Prisons19
County Jails234
Other Detention Centers4+
Total Prisons in Texas376+

Texas has one of the largest numbers of prisons of any state in the country. Only California, with well over 100 facilities, has more state prisons than Texas.

When county jails, federal prisons, private prisons, and other detention facilities are factored in, there are over 376 different prisons located in the state of Texas.

Major State Prisons in Texas

The TDCJ operates dozens of different state prison units. Some of the major men’s and women’s prisons in Texas include:

Large Men’s Prisons

  • Beto Unit – Tennessee Colony – 3,940 prisoners
  • Coffield Unit – Tennessee Colony – 4,021 prisoners
  • Connally Unit – Kenedy – 3,074 prisoners
  • Ellis Unit – Huntsville – 2,016 prisoners
  • Estelle Unit – Huntsville – 3,082 prisoners
  • Ferguson Unit – Midway – 2,467 prisoners
  • Hodge Unit – Rusk – 1,368 prisoners
  • Huntsville Unit – Huntsville – 1,082 prisoners
  • Michael Unit – Tennessee Colony – 1,977 prisoners
  • Pack Unit – Navasota – 1,479 prisoners
  • Ramsey Unit – Rosharon – 1,797 prisoners
  • Terrell Unit – Rosharon – 2,610 prisoners

Major Women’s Prisons

  • Crain Unit – Gatesville – 1,438 prisoners
  • Dr. Lane Murray Unit – Gatesville – 1,508 prisoners
  • Hilltop Unit – Gatesville – 1,337 prisoners
  • Mountain View Unit – Gatesville – 1,508 prisoners

The largest men’s prisons in Texas house over 3,000-4,000 prisoners each in dorm-style housing units. The women’s prisons have capacities closer to 1,500 prisoners each.

Private Prisons in Texas

In addition to state-run prisons, Texas contracts with private prison companies to operate secure adult correctional facilities:

  • Big Spring Correctional Center – GEO Group – 3,258 capacity
  • Bridgeport Correctional Center – MTC – 518 capacity
  • Bartlett State Jail – CoreCivic – 1,049 capacity
  • Bradshaw State Jail – MTC – 2,103 capacity
  • Dawson State Jail – CoreCivic – 2,216 capacity
  • East Texas Multi-Use Facility – GEO Group – 1,900 capacity
  • East Texas Treatment Facility – GEO Group – 1,000 capacity
  • Lindsey State Jail – CoreCivic – 1,031 capacity
  • Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer – Corrections Corporation of America – 2,103 capacity
  • Sanders Estes Unit – GEO Group – 1,080 capacity
  • Willacy State Jail – MTC – 1,069 capacity

Private prisons house around 10% of the total Texas inmate population. The state has contracted with prison companies since the late 1980s to provide additional bed space.

Federal Prisons in Texas

Texas has 19 different federal prisons operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP):

  • Bureau Detention Center – Houston
  • Carswell FMC – Fort Worth
  • Bastrop FCI – Bastrop
  • Beaumont FCI – Beaumont
  • Big Spring CI – Big Spring
  • Bryan FPC – Bryan
  • Carswell FMC – Fort Worth
  • El Reno FCI – El Reno
  • Fort Worth FMC – Fort Worth
  • La Tuna FCI – Anthony
  • Seagoville FCI – Seagoville
  • Three Rivers FCI – Three Rivers
  • Texarkana FCI – Texarkana
  • Reeves County Detention Camps I & II – Pecos
  • Joe Corley Detention Facility – Conroe
  • Eden Detention Center – Eden
  • Dalby Correctional Facility – Post
  • Giles W. Dalby Correctional Facility – Post

These facilities have a mix of security levels, including low, medium, and high. Several BOP prisons in Texas also have adjacent minimum security satellite camps for inmates nearing release.

County & Other Detention Facilities

With 254 counties in the state, Texas has hundreds of county jails and other detention centers:

  • 234 county jails managed by sheriff’s offices
  • 17 SAFPF substance abuse treatment facilities
  • 5 private detention centers housing inmates for U.S. Marshals, ICE, etc.
  • Several US military corrections facilities
See also  How Many Prisoners Are In Guantanamo Bay

The largest county jails are found near major cities like Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and Fort Worth. Harris County Jail in Houston is the largest in Texas with a capacity exceeding 9,000 inmates.

Distribution of Prisons in Texas

Prisons are located across Texas, with certain regions of the state housing more facilities:

  • East Texas Region – Highest concentration of state prisons, including Huntsville and Tennessee Colony.
  • North Texas Region – Many federal and private prisons near Dallas-Fort Worth metro.
  • West Texas Region – Home to federal prisons and facilities for ICE detainees.
  • Central Texas Region – Numerous county jails around cities like Austin and San Antonio.
  • South Texas Region – Lower concentration of prisons compared to other parts of Texas.

The map below shows the approximate locations of major state, federal, and private prisons in Texas:

{{< rawhtml >}} <img src=”” alt=”Map of Prison Locations in Texas” width=”100%”> {{< /rawhtml >}}

(Image Source: Texas Tribune)

The rural areas of Huntsville, Tennessee Colony, Richmond, Dayton, Beeville, Kenedy, Rusk, and Navasota have significant concentrations of larger TDCJ prison units.

Private prisons are clustered near the I-20 corridor south of Dallas and west Texas towns along I-10.

Why Does Texas Have So Many Prisons?

There are several reasons why Texas has one of the largest prison populations and most prisons of any U.S. state:

High Incarceration Rates

  • Texas has a high violent crime rate and incarceration rate relative to other states.
  • Over 140,000 inmates were in Texas prisons as of 2020.
  • Texas incarcerates over 600 inmates per 100,000 residents – one of the highest rates in the U.S.

Harsh Sentencing Laws

  • Texas has stringent sentencing guidelines that require long prison terms for many offenses.
  • About 1 in 10 Texas inmates are serving life sentences.
  • Texas eliminated parole for many new inmates after 1996.

Prison Expansion

  • Texas expanded its prison capacity dramatically since the 1980s and 1990s in response to the War on Drugs.
  • Dozens of new prisons were constructed to keep pace with inmate growth.

Use of Private Prisons

  • Texas relies heavily on private prisons to provide extra bed space, operating over 10% of its prisons.

The combination of these factors has led to a massive network of state, federal, and private prison facilities throughout Texas to house inmates.

Texas Incarceration Statistics:

Here are some key statistics on the Texas incarcerated population and prison system capacity:

  • 132,000: Current population of Texas state prisons
  • 147,000: Total capacity of Texas state prisons
  • 671: Incarceration rate per 100,000 population
  • 10-15%: Estimated percent of Texas inmates held in private prisons
  • 19,000: Number of inmates in Texas federal prisons
  • 40,000+: Number of inmates in Texas county jails
  • 700+: Number of different prisons, jails, and detention centers in Texas

Texas has the second highest incarcerated population in the U.S. after California. The state’s prison occupancy rate is around 90%.

Recent Changes and Prison Closures

While Texas still has a very large prison system, there have been some declines in the incarcerated population and number of prisons recently:

  • Texas closed 8 prisons in 2011 and 2012 during a fiscal crisis that reduced inmate populations.
  • Several juvenile detention facilities were closed as youth incarceration rates fell.
  • Private prisons reduced populations after failures to meet state standards emerged.
  • The Texas incarcerated population dropped about 5% from its peak by 2020. But it still remains very high compared to most states.

Further prison closures or decreases in capacity could occur if criminal justice reforms reduce inmate populations going forward. However, Texas is still projected to operate one of the nation’s largest prison systems for the foreseeable future.

Comparison to Other States

Texas has significantly more prisons than most other U.S. states. Here is how Texas compares for number of state prisons:

StateNumber of State Prisons
New York52

And here is a look at how Texas compares by incarcerated population:

StateIncarcerated Population
New York~38,000

Texas far surpasses most large states in both number of prisons and prisoners, trailing only California overall.

Some key factors driving Texas’ very large prison system compared to other states include:

  • Larger overall population and geographic size
  • Higher violent crime and poverty rates
  • Stricter sentencing laws
  • Greater reliance on incarceration
  • Higher use of both public and private prisons

Texas Currently Operates the Most Prisons of Any State

In summary, Texas currently has the most operational prisons of any U.S. state, with over 140 state facilities plus county jails, federal prisons, and private prisons.

Major expansion of the prison system occurred in recent decades in response to rising inmate populations. While Texas has closed some prisons and reduced incarceration rates slightly in recent years, it still maintains the second largest inmate population in the country.

Ongoing changes in crime rates, sentencing laws, parole and alternatives to incarceration could potentially reduce the number of prisons Texas operates in the future. But the state is still projected to have one of the nation’s largest incarceration systems for years to come.

How Texas Prisons Operate and Life Inside Prison

Operating the largest prison population in the U.S. after California comes with major challenges. Here is some background on how the prison system functions and what life is like inside Texas state prisons:

Typical Living Conditions & Facilities

Most Texas state prisons were built between the 1950s-1990s and have dormitory or cell-block housing units. Living conditions vary but often include:

  • Small cells or dorms housing 2-4 prisoners sharing toilets/showers
  • Limited recreation time and access to outdoor yards
  • Open dorm designs with lower privacy
  • Frequent lockdowns and restrictions on movement
  • Extensive security procedures

Rehabilitation and education programs are limited. Most inmates take part in prison work programs.

Health care, mental health treatment, air conditioning, cooling and nutrition are frequent sources of complaints and lawsuits regarding living conditions.

Prisoner Demographics and Data

  • 91% male, 9% female prisoners
  • 57% Black, 29% Hispanic, 13% White
  • Over 50% incarcerated for violent crimes
  • 69% have not completed high school
  • 15% ages 17-20, 55% ages 21-40
  • Est. 40% have mental health issues, 10% severe mental illness

Prison Staffing and Officers

  • 25,000+ prison officers employed by TDCJ
  • Guard to prisoner ratio around 1:6
  • Officers monitor cell blocks, escort prisoners, conduct checks
  • Officers not required to wear body cameras
  • Staffing shortages are a chronic problem

Prison Violence in Texas

  • Assaults on inmates rose from 558 in 2007 to 1,054 in 2019
  • Assaults on staff jumped from 363 to 676 over same period
  • Contraband cell phones/weapons are major issues
  • Gangs active in drug trafficking and violence inside prisons
  • Solitary confinement used to punish and control inmates

Despite prevention efforts, violence remains an issue in many Texas prisons. Lack of staffing contributes to unsafe conditions.

See also  What State Has the Most Prisons?

Rehabilitation and Recidivism

  • Vocational and life skills programs available but limited
  • Faith-based programming and classes focus on reform
  • Average educational attainment is 9th grade
  • 3-year recidivism rate around 22% as of 2018
  • Parole approval rate is around 25%

Limited rehabilitation offerings and parole contribute to high rates of re-offending and re-incarceration.

Costs of Housing Texas Prisoners

  • $63/day average cost per state prisoner
  • $750 million annual budget for prisoner healthcare
  • $3 billion annual cost for all state prisons ->$1 billion paid to private prisons annually

Managing such a vast system puts strain on the Texas corrections budget. Yet costs are lower than some states.

Despite recent improvements, Texas state prisons continue to face challenges around overcrowding, understaffing, violence, health care, and rehabilitation. But the system remains focused on punishment, security, and management over reform.

Texas County Jails Play Major Role

With 234 county jails across Texas, county facilities make up a significant segment of the overall prison system:

Key Facts on Texas County Jails

  • Hold 40,000+ inmates in county jails on a typical day
  • Largest county jail is Harris County Jail in Houston (>9,000 capacity)
  • Average jail houses 150-500 inmates
  • Pretrial detainees make up ~75% of county jail inmates
  • Most jails run by county sheriff’s offices
  • 19 Texas counties without a jail contract with others
  • Used for short sentences and pretrial detention

While Texas Department of Criminal Justice operates the most prisons and inmates, county sheriffs oversee a majority of the jail facilities in the state.

Long-Term Overcrowding Issues

  • Most county jails stay around 75-100% occupancy
  • Dozens of jails remain over 100% capacity despite new construction
  • Releases and transfers to state prisons help manage overcrowding
  • Lawsuits filed over crowded and unsafe conditions

Too many inmates and limited space is an ongoing problem at many Texas county jails.

Reforms to Reduce Jail Population

  • Bail reform and cite-and-release policies keep more defendants out of jails prior to trial
  • Specialty courts divert those with mental illness or drug issues to treatment
  • Some counties looking to replace jails with rehabilitation centers
  • Harris County adopted reforms to reduce jailing nonviolent defendants

While progress has been made, most Texas counties continue to rely heavily on jails for housing inmates and pretrial detainees. Managing larger jail populations strains county resources.

Federal Prisons Play Smaller Role in Texas

With 19 federal prisons, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has a smaller footprint in Texas than state and county correctional systems:

Key Facts on Federal Prisons in Texas

  • 19 BOP facilities located in Texas as of 2023
  • Nearly 19,000 inmates housed in Texas federal prisons
  • 5 administrative security prisons, 12 low and medium security prisons, 2 detention centers
  • Largest federal facilities include FCI El Reno, FCI Fort Worth, FCI Seagoville

The BOP houses around 10% of prisoners in Texas. Most federal prisons in the state are lower security.

Inmate Population and Trends

  • Most Texas federal inmates prosecuted for immigration or drug offenses
  • Texas federal prisons are chronically overcrowded like the national BOP system
  • Texas federal prison population dropped 14% from 2013 peak levels
  • Future growth tied to federal policy on drugs, immigration enforcement etc.

Inmate levels can fluctuate more in federal prisons based on national trends.

What Are the Largest Prisons in Texas?

With over 140 state prisons, Texas has dozens of major correctional facilities. Here are the 10 largest prisons in Texas by population:

  1. Beto Unit (TDCJ) – Tennessee Colony – 3,940 inmates
  2. Coffield Unit (TDCJ) – Tennessee Colony – 4,021 inmates
  3. Connally Unit (TDCJ) – Kenedy – 3,074 inmates
  4. Eastham Unit (TDCJ) – Lovelady – 2,768 inmates
  5. Ellis Unit (TDCJ) – Huntsville – 2,016 inmates
  6. Estelle Unit (TDCJ) – Huntsville – 3,082 inmates
  7. Ferguson Unit (TDCJ) – Midway – 2,467 inmates
  8. Michael Unit (TDCJ) – Tennessee Colony – 1,977 inmates
  9. Ramsey Unit (TDCJ) – Rosharon – 1,797 inmates
  10. Stiles Unit (TDCJ) – Beaumont – 2,136 inmates

The largest Texas prisons house 2,000 to 4,000 inmates in dormitory and cell block housing units. Most of the biggest state prisons are located in rural East and Southeast Texas.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice generally prefers larger facilities with economies of scale. But some major prisons have faced overcrowding challenges.

Here are the 5 biggest federal prisons and county jails in Texas:


  1. FCI Bastrop – 1,735 inmates
  2. FCI Beaumont Low – 1,521 inmates
  3. FCI El Reno – 1,477 inmates
  4. FCI Fort Worth – 1,152 inmates
  5. FCI La Tuna – 1,052 inmates

County Jails:

  1. Harris County Jail – 9,434 capacity
  2. Dallas County Jail – 7,100 capacity
  3. Bexar County Adult Detention Center – 4,596 capacity
  4. Tarrant County Jail – 4,253 capacity
  5. Travis County Jail – 2,250 capacity

The largest Texas federal prisons have around 1,000-1,700 inmates. Major county jails house thousands of pretrial detainees and sentenced offenders near major cities.

What is Daily Life Like in Texas State Prisons?

Between security measures, overcrowding, and strict schedules, life inside Texas state prisons poses major challenges for inmates. Here is an overview of daily prison life:

Typical Day Schedule

  • 5:00 am – Wake up
  • 5:30 am – Breakfast
  • 6:00 am – Prison work programs
  • 11:30 pm – Lunch
  • 1:00 pm – More work time
  • 5:00 pm – Dinner
  • 9:30 pm – Lockdown in cells/dorms

Inmates follow strict schedules for meals, work, recreation time, and other activities. Free time is very limited.

Housing Conditions

  • Small cells housing 2-4 inmates
  • Open dorms with rows of bunk beds
  • Shared toilets and showers
  • Little air conditioning
  • Limited personal storage space

Privacy is very restricted in crowded prisons. Sanitation can be poor.

Heavily Controlled Routines

  • Head counts 5-6 times per day
  • Restricted movement with escorts
  • Pat downs and cell searches for contraband
  • Constant monitoring by guards

Texas prisons emphasize security, control, and containment of inmates.

Health and Medical Care

  • Access to medical staff limited
  • Long waits for healthcare services
  • Mental health treatment is minimal
  • Poor diets and nutrition
  • Some prisons lack air conditioning

Providing adequate physical and mental health care is a challenge.

Violence and Safety Issues

  • Gangs and violence a constant issue
  • Assaults and sexual abuse occur
  • Solitary confinement used for rule breakers
  • Understaffing strains ability to control issues

Texas prisons can be dangerous places despite security measures. Rehabilitation takes a back seat to punishment.

In summary, life inside Texas prisons is difficult. Loss of freedom, privacy, comforts, and autonomy under strict control takes a major toll on inmates. Some are able to access education and vocational programs, but conditions are designed to punish.

How Much Do Texas Prisons Cost Taxpayers?

With over 140 state prisons housing about 140,000 inmates, the Texas prison system requires massive spending:

  • $3 billion: Annual budget for TDCJ operations and administration
  • $750 million: Annual cost for inmate healthcare
  • $63/day: Average cost to house a Texas prisoner
  • $50 million: Annual payments to counties to house state inmates
  • $1 billion: Annual payments to private prisons holding state inmates

The annual cost for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to run state prisons approaches $3 billion yearly. Most spending goes toward staffing, facilities, and inmate health care.

See also  What Percent of Prisoners are Black in the US. in 2023?

Private facilities receive over $1 billion in payments from TDCJ. The average cost to imprison one Texas inmate is around $63 per day, or over $22,000 per year.

Critics argue too much is spent on a punitive model focused on imprisonment over rehabilitation. But costs are lower than some states.

Prison Cost Control Measures

To control prison budgets, Texas uses tactics like:

  • No air conditioning in most prisons
  • Having inmates grow food and do janitorial work
  • Using lower-cost private facilities
  • Limiting health care services and programs
  • Keeping prisons in low-cost rural areas

The state prioritizes cutting costs and running prisons cheaply over inmate living conditions and services.

Potential Savings from Reduced Incarceration

While costly to run, Texas prisons could save significant taxpayer funds if the state reduced incarceration and closed units, including:

  • Over $60 million saved annually if prison population cut 5%
  • 10 prison closures would save ~$30 million per year
  • 1,000 fewer inmates saves $20 million+ yearly
  • Lower recidivism cuts long-term costs

Texas has already seen lower prison budgets from closures in recent years. But major reforms would be needed to produce significant savings. The massive system still strains state resources.

Key Historical Events for Texas Prisons

Throughout their history, Texas prisons have undergone periods of reform, expansion, and crisis:

1848 – First Texas State Penitentiary Opens

  • The Huntsville Unit opened with 70 inmates leased to local plantations.

1867-1910 – Prison Expansion and Convict Leasing

  • Texas opened multiple new state prisons and leased inmates to companies.

1930s – Texas Prison System Modernizes

  • The state took over all prisons from private contractors.

1980s-1990s – “Tough on Crime” Leads to More Prisons

  • Harsher sentencing laws drove rapid prison expansion.

2006 – Prison Sex Abuse Scandal

  • The TDCJ faced lawsuits over widespread guard-on-inmate sexual abuse.

2011-2012 – Texas Closes 12 Prisons

  • A shrinking prison population allowed unit closures to cut costs.

2018 – Heat Lawsuit Settlement

  • TDCJ agreed to install air conditioning in prisons after inmate deaths.

2020s – COVID-19 Hits Texas Prisons

  • The pandemic caused inmate deaths and revealed poor conditions.

These events shaped the growth and reforms of what became one of America’s largest prison systems. Challenges with costs, conditions, staffing and more persist today.

Notable Prisoners in Texas History

Many famous criminals and controversial figures have served time in Texas prisons over the years:

  • John Wesley Hardin – Notorious outlaw jailed at Huntsville in the 1870s; he was pardoned in 1894 and shot dead the next year.
  • Clyde Barrow – Of Bonnie & Clyde fame; did time at Eastham Prison Farm in the early 1930s.
  • Lee Harvey Oswald – JFK assassin; served at the Texarkana Prison for defecting to the Soviet Union in 1959.
  • Charles Manson – Cult leader; was at federal prison in Terminal Island, Texas before his murder convictions.
  • Jeffrey Dahmer – Serial killer; was beaten to death by another inmate at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Texas in 1994.
  • Yolanda Saldívar – Murderer of Tejano singer Selena; has been jailed at Mountain View Unit since 1995.
  • Andrea Yates – Drowned her five children in 2001; was held at various units before being moved to a low-security mental health prison.
  • Tom Delaey – Former Texas judge; imprisoned for bribery at Jester III Unit.

Texas prisons have confined some of the most infamous killers, criminals, and corrupt officials over the decades. Their notoriety shines light on a notorious prison system.

Controversies and Issues with Texas Prisons

Throughout its history, the Texas prison system has come under fire for chronic problems with conditions, abuse, and underfunding:

Healthcare and Mental Health Treatment Failures

  • Lack of prompt care, doctors, dentists, and mental health services
  • Heat exacerbates health issues; many prisons still lack full air conditioning
  • Mentally ill inmates disciplined instead of treated
  • At least 14 heat-related inmate deaths since 1998

Understaffing and Failure to Control Violence

  • Texas prisons have ~1 guard per 6 inmates, less than recommended staffing
  • Assaults, trafficking, and gang activity persist due to limited oversight
  • Solitary confinement used to control vulnerable inmates
  • Sexual abuse of inmates by staff was rampant until reforms

Overcrowding Lawsuits and Closures

  • Most prisons stay around 95% capacity with limited space
  • DOJ sued Texas over crowding at psychiatric prisons in 2014
  • Population drop allowed closure of 8 prisons in 2011-2012
  • Covid outbreaks spotlighted unhealthy overcrowding

Rehabilitation Failures and High Recidivism

  • Texas focused on prison growth, not reform programs
  • Vocational, mental health, addiction treatment options lag other states
  • About 1 in 5 inmates returns to prison within 3 years
  • Low parole rates result in prisoners serving most of sentences

Legal Challenges and Oversight Failures

  • Prison agency faced over 1,000 federal civil rights lawsuits in just 5 years
  • Independent oversight of prisons seen as inadequate
  • Escape scandals showed security failures

Texas has faced growing calls to improve conditions, reduce incarceration, and invest more in reform programs to address persistent problems with its prisons.

The Future of Texas Prisons

While Texas maintains one of the largest prison populations, shifting political winds and tight budgets could drive changes in coming years:

Sentencing and Justice Reforms

  • Texas passed modest bipartisan reforms in 2007 and 2013 to treat 17-year-olds as juveniles and offer rehabilitation programs for some prisoners. But the state lags most others on justice reforms.
  • Lawmakers face growing calls from both parties to revisit mandatory sentencing, parole restrictions, and other measures to curb incarceration.

Growing Cost Pressures

  • Operating so many aging prisons strains budgets, especially amid Texas’ boom-and-bust economy.
  • Even with low costs per prisoner, total costs now exceed $3 billion per year and could face cuts.

Right on Crime and Conservative Critics

  • Groups like Right on Crime call for probation, reentry programs, and alternatives to incarceration to control costs and improve outcomes.
  • Even conservative voices argue Texas over-incarcerates and would benefit from reforms.

Legal Pressure

  • Lawsuits over heat, healthcare, disability access, sexual abuse, COVID-19 precautions and more could push costly changes.
  • The DOJ threatened to sue Texas over extreme summer heat risks in prisons unless air conditioning is added.

While challenges remain, pressures are mounting from politicians, advocates and taxpayers for Texas to evolve its prison system. Significant reforms could eventually reduce its vast scale and punitive approach. But progress is likely to be very gradual.


With 108 state prisons and well over 300 total public and private prisons, Texas maintains by far the largest state prison system in the U.S. after California.

A “tough on crime” political focus led Texas to rapidly expand incarceration and prison capacity since the late 20th century in response to the War on Drugs, harsh sentencing laws, and population growth. Major prison construction turned small rural towns into prison hubs.

While Texas prisons are costly, they remain focused on maximum security confinement at minimum cost – often at the expense of rehabilitation services and decent living conditions. Aging facilities and chronic understaffing contribute to violence risks and inadequate healthcare.

Still, modest bipartisan reforms and falling crime rates led to some Texas prison closures in recent years. Growing calls for change point toward gradually reducing incarceration and shifting to a more balanced model. But Texas’ sheer scale makes rapid transformation of its prison system unlikely anytime soon.

Prison Inside Team

Share this post on social

See also  What State Has the Most Prisons?

Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

See also  How Many Supermax Prisons Are There?