I mentioned Douglas Blackmon in a previous post. Turns out his research is newly relevant again – a graveyard from one of Texas’ bigger prison farms has been unearthed during new construction. The Houston Chronicle spoke to Blackmon and other experts to discuss the history of these farms, what life was like, and some first-person accounts from afflicted inmates.
The convict-leasing system began in Texas and other southern states shortly after the Civil War, when officials realized they had a large population of prisoners to care for and very little money, according to author Donald R. Walker in “Penology for Profit,” a book about the Texas system.
The main income for the state came from property taxes, but poor collection and Texans’ hesitance to pay meant little money was coming in, according to Walker. When the Civil War ended, the state treasury showed a balance of over $3 million but only about $145,000 was considered valuable currency.
Politicians thought leasing the prison to outside parties could be profitable. Private individuals would make regular payments to the state for the services of convicts, while the state would oversee inmate care and supervision.