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Everything’s tougher in Texas

This Know series explores different perspectives on the modern prison system and how it ties into history, race and contemporary policy with an emphasis on Texas.

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As Michele Deitch, an expert on criminal justice issues, points out in her post for this Know series on the modern American prison system, the state of Texas tripled the size of its prison population in one decade and is home to the second largest prison system in the nation.

Texas Tough book cover design

“Texas Tough” was written by Robert Perkinson. 

The William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law and the Institute for Historical Studies presented a book talk with Robert Perkinson, author of “Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire” (2008), at the university’s School of Law.

“Texas Tough” is a history of imprisonment, race and politics from slavery to the present. Perkinson is a professor at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and was awarded the Soros Justice Fellowship in 2006.

The following posts represent different perspectives on the modern prison system and how it ties into history, race and contemporary policy in Texas.

Michele Deitch is a senior lecturer at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, where she teaches courses on criminal justice policy. She has previously been a court-appointed monitor of conditions in the Texas prison system, as well as an adviser to the Texas Legislature on criminal justice issues.

In Deitch’s post, she describes the massive Texas prison population and the significance race plays in America’s criminal justice system as well as the significance and timeliness of Perkinson’s book. Read Deitch’s post.

Photo of Jorge Renaud


Jorge Antonio Renaud, a graduate student in the School of Social Work, spent 27 years in Texas prisons for burglary and aggravated robbery. He wrote the book, “Behind the Walls: A Guide for the Families and Friends of Texas Inmates.”

Renaud offers a very different perspective of the Texas prison system: what it’s like on the inside. His writing is awash with dark details and delves into significant changes in the prison system in recent decades. Read Renaud’s post.

Mary Crouter, assistant director of the Justice Center, also directs the law school’s Judicial Internship Program and teaches judicial internship courses. Crouter is an organizer of the “Texas Tough” book talk.

Crouter writes about Judge William Wayne Justice’s 1980 class action lawsuit Ruiz v. Estelle in which trial evidence revealed brutally harsh prison conditions. The legendary lawsuit is a topic in “Texas Tough.” Read Crouter’s post.