Texas Prison Burials

By Prison Legal News

If a Texas state prisoner dies or is executed, relatives or friends can pick up the body. If they don’t, he or she is buried in the largest prison graveyard in the United States – the Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery in Huntsville, Texas. Such burials occur around 100 times each year.

Named after an assistant warden at the Huntsville Unit who helped clean and restore the 22-acre graveyard in the 1960s, the cemetery is still associated with the prison unit known as “The Walls” for its 19th century brick walls. The warden or assistant warden from the facility attends each funeral.

A prisoner’s body may be unclaimed for a number of reasons. There may be no surviving friends or relatives, but a more likely explanation is that the friends or relatives are too poor to afford the burial expenses.

“I think everyone assumes if you are in a prison cemetery you’re somehow the worst of the worst,” said Indiana State University assistant professor of criminology Franklin T. Wilson, who is writing a book about the Byrd cemetery. “But it’s more of a reflection of your socioeconomic status. This is more of a case of if you’re buried there, you’re poor.”

Although Texas prison officials have only been able to verify 2,100 prisoner burials at the graveyard, Wilson, who recently photographed every headstone in the cemetery, estimated the number was over 3,000.


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Rehabilitation Through Education: Advocating Pell Grants for Prisoners

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy

America’s prisons are quickly becoming a drain on local, state, and federal budgets.  It’s estimated that as many as 30% to 40% of federal prisons are now over-capacity — a number that some believe will exceed 50% within the next 10 years[i] — with state prisons suffering from similar problems.[ii]

Many believe this overcrowding is the result of an increase in crime.  But crime rates have consistently fallen in the past two decades.  Violent crime is at an all-time low, and property crime is not far behind.[iii]  So while an increase in crime isn’t the problem, the problem isn’t simply a lack of prison space either.

The problem lies with recidivism — prisoners or probationers exiting custody or supervision and returning to a life of crime (and being arrested for doing so).  It’s recidivism that keeps our prisons full.

The Purpose of Prisons: Punish, Rehabilitate, or Both?

Prisons are designed to be a punishment for some type of crime.  But by their very nature — or at least the ideal of their purpose — they’re also meant to be a place of reformation and rehabilitation.  By placing someone in prison as a punishment, it’s believed that they’ll be motivated to avoid engaging in criminal conduct in the future, thus turning their life around and placing them back on a law abiding path.

But we know that this reformative ideal is often unfulfilled.  Most people do not break the law in the first place because of a sense of corrupt morals.  They break the law because they know nothing else or are born into a culture in which breaking the law is an acceptable norm, and once they exit the prison system, they’re given even fewer opportunities to be productive members of society.  Without opportunity, they can often feel as though they have no choice other than to go back to breaking the law.  And the truth of the matter is that many, many doors are closed to them.  Thus the appeal of returning to a criminal lifestyle.

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