U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library


NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 10 Issue: 1 Dated: (March 1993) Pages: 29-48
P A Ethridge; J W Marquart
Date Published
20 pages
Faced with rising prison populations and limited funds, many State governments have contracted with private companies for the construction, management, and operation of correctional facilities, and this paper examines the historical and contemporary role of private sector involvement in Texas.
The Texas experience with inmate labor during the late 1800's paralleled that of other southern States and was based on the belief that inmates should work to defray the costs of their incarceration. In 1866, the Texas Legislature established the Board of Public Labor to regulate inmate labor, and the first contracts for inmate labor were signed that same year with two railroad companies. In 1871, Texas signed a lease with a private company giving it full use of all prison property; in return for inmate labor, the company paid the State a set yearly fee. Other lease agreements with private companies ensued between 1878 and 1883, with State officials still maintaining that the costs of operating prisons should come from the profits generated by inmate labor and not from tax revenues. After a 1909 report that revealed deplorable conditions in Texas prisons, the contract labor system was abolished in 1912. Years later, in 1987, political interest in privatization was heightened by several problems: an increase in total prison admissions between 1980 and 1986, a 1980 lawsuit settlement that limited the number of inmates the Texas Department of Corrections could legally house, a prediction by the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council that new prison construction would be needed to prevent a shortage of beds, and limited State resources for new prison construction. Legislation enacted in 1987 authorized the Texas Board of Corrections to contract with private vendors to finance, construct, operate, maintain, or manage secure correctional facilities. The first step toward implementing this legislation was taken in 1987 when the board voted to issue a request for proposal for the location, construction, and operation of four 500-bed prerelease centers (PRC's). The operation and management of specialized facilities, such as PRC's, for low-risk inmates by the private sector are discussed. 74 references