James Bennett and the United Arab Republic

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These pictures show James Bennett, second director of the Federal Bureau of Prison, visiting the United Arab Republic sometime during the late 1950s. He was there to take part in a review of this short lived political union between Egypt and Syria’s prison system.  Bennett made a name for himself as a penal reformer and advocate for the improvement of inhumane conditions in prisons.

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The James V. Bennett Collection contains a number of photographs and documents related to prisons and prison reviews from around the world. To see the photographs, view the James V. Bennett photographs in our Digital Collections by clicking the link below.

James V. Bennett Photographs

View a detailed finding aid of this collection at Sam Houston State University’s Finding Aids Online page and see just what materials are in the collection.

James V. Bennett Collection, 1905-1971

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Jim Willett talks about the History of the Walls Unit

Jim Willet talks to the crowd about the history of the Wall (Huntsville) Unit

Jim Willett talks to the crowd about the history of the Wall (Huntsville) Unit

On November 5, 2014, Director of the Texas Prison Museum and Former Warden of the Walls Unit Jim Willett spoke in the Thomason Room at Newton Gresham Library on the history of the Huntsville Unit a.k.a. the Walls Unit. Students, faculty members, and residents of Huntsville were regaled with stories that reflect the complex nature of the oldest prison in Texas. As an example, some escapees dug a hole under the Walls only to run into the wife of the warden who shot at them, leading to their capture. In another story, a judge gave directions that a prisoner be kept in solitary confinement in a cell painted black on the inside and outside without provision for exercise. Notably, the prison officials noticed that the prisoner’s health was deteriorating and made provisions to move the prisoner out of isolation. Willett did a wonderful job presenting the complex history of the Walls, giving the audience a better understanding of a building that looms large in the history of Huntsville, TX.

After his talk, Willett fielded questions from the audience that ranged from asking about his experience overseeing executions, the relationship between prisoners and his family, and the history of property owned by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

The event unfortunately only lasted an hour with Willett still having more stories and facts to detail. Hopefully we can have him back soon. If you could not attend, but would like to know the contents of the talk, you can view our Twitter account at @SHSUArchives or search #WallsTalk.

 

 

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History of the Walls Unit

Walls Unit CJ Talk Flyer

On November 5th at 3pm in the Thomason Room, SHSU Special Collections will be hosting a talk by Jim Willet, Former Warden of the Walls Unit and Director of the Texas Prison Museum.

The Walls Unit (Huntsville Unit) began operations in 1849 and is the oldest building in the Texas prison system. The unit remains attractive to this day and currently houses the State of Texas execution chamber.

Willet will discuss the history of the unit and his time overseeing the execution of inmates.

After the talk, attendees will be able to view exhibits featuring items from a number of high profile criminal justice manuscript collections. Staff members will gladly answer questions about these collections and help you find potential resources for research.

If you are interested in Criminal Justice or the history of the Huntsville, then this is the event for you. Because of the size of the Thomason Room, space is limited so get there early for a seat!

If you would like to follow the event online, you can find us at @SHSUArchives or #WallsTalk

Texas Probation and Parole Association and Texas Correctional Association

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Cover of Texas Probation and Parole Association Newsletter in December 1966.

The Texas Probation and Parole Association and Texas Correctional Association Collection (1939-1988; three boxes) collection consist of documents, pamphlets, programs, advertisements, and correspondence concerning the Texas Probation and Parole Association and Texas Correctional Association organizations.  The collection contains minutes from the Texas Probation and Parole Association’s annual meetings, newsletters, and information on the organization’s guidelines and by-laws.  The collection contains Texas Probation and Parole Association correspondence and committee documents.  In addition, the collection includes numerous pamphlets and advertisements on the Texas Probation and Parole Association and Texas Correctional Association annual conferences.  The Texas Probation and Parole Association and Texas Correctional Association Collection also contains Texas State Juvenile Officers Association material, and additional documents on Texas social welfare.

View a detailed finding aid of this collection at Sam Houston State University’s Archon page and see an item level listing of these materials.

https://archon.shsu.edu/index.php?utm_campaign=archon&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=blog&p=collections%2Fcontrolcard&id=27

Ruiz vs. Estelle Collection, 1976-1982

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Selection of David Ruiz Appeal

In February of 1960, David Ruiz was sentenced to 12 years in the Texas Department of corrections for robbery and automobile theft.  Ruiz was a career criminal in Texas and spent all but four years of his adult life incarcerated. In 1972, Ruiz filed a federal lawsuit about the working and living conditions in Texas Prisons.  The lawsuit was combined with several other prison cases by Judge William Wayne Justice into a class action lawsuit against the Texas Department of Corrections.  Titled Ruiz v. Estelle, the case led to extensive changes to the Texas Department of Corrections management of the prisoners under its supervision.  Texas was ordered to diminish overcrowding, improve recreation and rehabilitation programs, and amend prison policies and procedures to improve the welfare of Texas inmates.

The Ruiz v. Estelle collection (1976-1982; five boxes) consists of legal documents, briefs, and memorandums concerning the class action lawsuit against the Texas Department of Corrections entitled Ruiz v. Estelle.  The collection also includes materials from the case Guajardo v. Estelle. 

View a detailed finding aid of his collection at Sam Houston State University’s Archon page and see just what materials are in the collection.

https://archon.shsu.edu/index.php?utm_campaign=archon&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=blog&p=collections%2Fcontrolcard&id=35

Sanford Bates Collection, 1906-1972

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Sanford Bates (on left) outside the Bureau of Prisons.

Sanford Bates had a storied career in the field of law and criminal justice. He was practicing lawyer in Boston, member of the Massachusetts Legislature and Senate, first Massachusetts Department of Corrections Commissioner, and first Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  Sanford Bates also served as the Executive Director of the Boys Clubs of America, New York State Parole Commissioner, and Commissioner of Institutions and Agencies for the State of New Jersey.  Sanford Bates was involved with the United Nations and other international commissions during the later years of his life.

The Sanford Bates Collection (1906-1972; forty one boxes) consist of documents, reports, brochures, and correspondence concerning Sanford Bates throughout his career as one of the country’s most influential criminologists and prison administrators. His contributions to prisoner rehabilitation were vast and the collection includes many of his progressive papers.  Some of the many subjects include: state and federal prison administration, juvenile delinquency, probation, parole, correctional standards and staff training.  Along with the publications by Sanford Bates, the collection holds articles by many significant criminologists of the time, criminal justice newsletters and articles, and Bates’ personal library of books.

View a detailed finding aid of his collection at Sam Houston State University’s Archon page and see just what materials are in the collection.

https://archon.shsu.edu/index.php?utm_campaign=archon&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=blog&p=collections/controlcard&p=collections/controlcard&id=2

James V. Bennett Collection, 1905-1971

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James V. Bennett played a vital role in the creation and initial operation of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. A graduate of Brown then George Washington University, Bennett began his federal government career in 1919 when he was named an Investigator for the U.S. Bureau of Efficiency. Bennett penned “The Federal Penal and Correction Problem” in 1928, which was vital as a catalyst for the creation of the Bureau of Prisons.

The creation of the Federal Prison Industries Inc. in 1934 can be considered as one of his most significant achievements during his tenure. He worked as Assistant Director for the Federal Bureau of Prisons up until 1937 when he was named Director following Sanford Bates’ retirement. As Director, Bennett, was a very active reformer of correctional policies and was an advocate for the rights of prison inmates. He was instrumental in opening special institutions for juveniles, rehabilitation centers and halfway houses.

The materials that make up the James V. Bennett Collection, 1905-1971 represent a major part of the life and work of James V. Bennett. Significantly, they portray his role as the Director of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and a prison reformer. This is achieved primarily through his articles, newsletters, books and as well as other materials. There are also many articles and speeches by Mr. Bennett. The most popular theme is prison policies and reform. This collection also contains numerous correspondence and case histories of prison inmates. Pictorial documentation of Bennett as well as many other important personnel is also represented in this collection. There are also several recordings with songs reflective of prison culture.

View a detailed finding aid of his collection at Sam Houston State University’s Archon page and see just what materials are in the collection.

https://archon.shsu.edu/index.php?utm_campaign=archon&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=blog&p=collections/controlcard&p=collections/controlcard&id=3

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Huntsville Prisons: The Walls Unit

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Front entrance of the Wall Unit on April 4, 1955

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West wing of the Walls Unit on April 4, 1955

When people think of Huntsville, TX, they usually think of prisons. Huntsville is the home of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the infamous Walls Units (Texas Death Row).  Here are some pictures of the Walls Unit taken on April 4, 1955. The first picture is of the front entrance and the second is of the west wing of the unit. What is surprising is that it still looks the same today!
These images are part of the Springfield collection which can be found in University Archives. They can also be viewed at http://walkercountytreasures.com/index.php