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Texas Prison Warehouses (Letter)

by : D.G. "Tex" Hoffman

The Texas Dept. of Corrections operates the nation's second largest prison system after California, including 20 transfer facilities. Transfer facilities are Texas' answer to overcrowded county jails; the first facility was built in mid- 1994 when jails were overflowing with state prisoners.

Transfer facilities consist of pre-fab, sheet metal-clad buildings with four 50-man open dorms. Each facility houses 2,000 prisoners.

According to the Texas Government Code, prisoners sentenced to the Texas Dept. of Corrections are first sent to a transfer facility for two years unless they are bench warranted back to the county, at which time the two-year time period starts over. Following two years at a transfer facility prisoners are sent to an Institutional Division (ID) unit to finish their sentences.

Prisoners housed at transfer facilities cannot purchase radios, fans or typewriters. The prohibition on fans is a particular hardship during the summer months: transfer facilities do not have air conditioning and internal temperatures can soar up to 1400.

Prisoners at transfer facilities are not allowed to go to the institutional library unless they are enrolled in GED classes. The facilities do not provide the same amount of recreation time or educational services that are offered at ID units -- with limited programming and few work assignments, transfer facilities are little more than prison warehouses with a two-year turnover in "inventory."

Many of the guards at transfer facilities were sent there for violating rules at other units, from sleeping on the job to abusing prisoners; the facilities are considered "punishment posts." Guards frequently issue disciplinary charges for minor infractions such as walking on the grass or talking in line, knowing that disciplinary records will follow prisoners when they eventually transfer to an ID unit.

Although transfer facilities are relatively unknown to people outside the prison system, they are well known to the thousands of Texas prisoners who have to endure their harsh conditions.

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