Speeches delivered by Pat M. Neff, Governor of Texas, discussing certain phases of contemplated legislation Page: 44 of 61
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administration. About half of those in the penitentiary at this
time are white Americans, the other half Mexicans and negroes. Among
the prisoners are about fifty negro women and some dozen white women.
There are about seven hundred white boys between the ages of eighteen
and twenty-five. Approximately ninety per cent of the convicts are illiterate,
unskilled laborers. Many are mental and physical unfits. Most
of them are unsuited for skilled mechanical employment. In the very
nature of things, they must be used for ordinary manual labor.
WHAT WORK DO THE CONVICTS PERFORM?
In the handling of prisoners we have gotten far away from that ancient
day when they were "bound with fetters of brass and made to
grind in the prison house." The spirit of this Biblical thought rings
with the chains of cruelty. Not so in the Texas. penitentiary life of
today. Our convicts are fed plenty of substantial food, have a good,
clean place to sleep, have libraries, religious gatherings, are well cared
for, and are made to work. It is proper that they should work. The
penitentiary should not be a loafing place. Work is absolutely essential
for the physical, mental and moral well being of those in, as well
as those on the outside, the penitentiary. Some one hundred or more
of the prisoners have consumption or are permanently crippled and
therefore unable to work. These are kept on a farm to themselves and
are looked after as sick men. The women, most of them not capable
of doing much work, are kept on a farm to themselves and sew for the
penitentiary system. Generally speaking, there are from four to five
hundred who, for various and good reasons, are kept on the inside the
walls at Huntsville. These do but little work for the reason that the
State has not provided any kind of inside work for them to do. The
crippled, the permanently sick, the women and those in the walls, aggregating
in all about seven hundred, are dead weights to the financial
system of the penitentiary. They must be fed, clothed, have medical
treatment and their general wants looked after. These in the aggregate
produce but little. They are consumers. The remaining convicts,
about three thousand in all, are worked on the farms. A large number
of them, however, on account of age, previous indolent lives, drug
addicts, and dissipated habits, make poor farm hands. Some rebel
against any form of honest labor. The criminal courts of Texas do
not produce high grade laborers. There is one guard for every twelve
convicts on the farms, aggregating over two hundred.
THE PENITENTIARY WARDS SHOULD BE EMPLOYED AT DIFFERENT
The convicts should be employed at different industries. All the penitentiary
eggs should not be in one nest. All the prisoners who are
able to work should be provided with profitable employment. A cotton
factory, a tannery, a shoe factory, a wagon factory, a cabinet shop, that
would work in all from five hundred to a thousand prisoners, should be
established for the purpose of manufacturing cloth, shoes, vehicles, furniture
and other fixtures to be placed, not on the open market, but used
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Neff, Pat M. Speeches delivered by Pat M. Neff, Governor of Texas, discussing certain phases of contemplated legislation, book, 1923; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth5835/m1/44/: accessed March 29, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; .