Texas Prison System
Since the first state-run prison opened in Huntsville in 1848, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has enjoyed a good relationship with the community and its citizens. For almost 160 years, the agency has maintained its headquarters in Huntsville and has employed thousands of Walker County residents in positions ranging from correctional officer to executive director, bringing millions to the local economy and striving at every turn to be a good neighbor.
TDCJ employs some 39,200 people across the state, all dedicated to fulfilling the agency’s mission of protecting public safety. Nearly 6,000 TDCJ employees live and work in Walker County, earning approximately $16.6 million each month in salaries, while another 195 people are employed in Walker County by the Windham School District, working within the prisons as educators and adding another $740,000 monthly to the local economy.
While 2,784 TDCJ employees work in Walker County in administrative functions, others work in one of seven units located within the county limits – Byrd, Ellis, Estelle, Goree, Holliday, Huntsville and Wynne. The units employ 3,009 area residents and house some 14,000 offenders.
Offenders incarcerated within the TDCJ participate in community and public work projects. TDCJ units are allowed to enter into agreements with eligible non-profit or governmental entities to provide services to the public and add to the general well-being of the community by providing offender labor. These projects not only benefit the communities, but also allow the offenders to earn valuable vocational skills and training certification that help them become a part of the state’s workforce when they are released. Locally, inmates have assisted in everything from preparing meals for hurricane evacuees seeking refuge in Huntsville, to working at the site of the city’s new aquatic center.
TDCJ employees make an important contribution to the community by performing their work duties, but they also positively impact the area through their charitable works. TDCJ employees in Walker County make generous contributions to a number of local non-profit organizations through the annual State Employee Charitable Campaign.
Beyond providing assistance to the local community, TDCJ works closely with Sam Houston State University in a number of areas and they strive to reach out to the families of offenders, particularly their children. In 2004, the agency, at the direction of former Texas Board of Criminal Justice Chairman Christina Melton Crain, introduced the Giving Offenders’ Kids Incentive and Direction to Succeed (GO KIDS) program. The program exists as a means of helping to strengthen the bond between offenders and their children.
In Huntsville, GOKIDS supports the Common Ground Mentoring Program that is offered through Sam Houston State University’s Department of Psychology and Philosophy to children ages four to 14 who reside in Walker County and have at least one parent in the state or federal prison system. The program pairs children with mentors who help them with academic work and take them on community outings.
The future of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is bright. The agency continues to operate at the forefront of the correctional industry, pioneering a number of programs that are studied and duplicated by other states’ correctional entities.