Huntsville Unit

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Huntsville Unit (HV)
Huntsville Unit is located in Texas
Huntsville Unit
Location in Texas
Location815 12th Street
Huntsville, Texas 77342
Coordinates30°43′19″N 95°32′44″W / 30.722027°N 95.545596°W / 30.722027; -95.545596
Security classG1–G3, Security Detention, Transient
Managed byTexas Department of Criminal Justice
WardenKelly Strong
CountyWalker County
Notable prisoners
Chad Butler ("Pimp C"), Duane "Dog" Chapman, John Wesley Hardin, Satanta, Doc Middleton Seth Wayne Campbell (first marriage on unit)

Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville or Huntsville Unit (HV), nicknamed "Walls Unit", is a Texas state prison located in Huntsville, Texas, United States. The approximately 54.36-acre (22.00 ha) facility, near downtown Huntsville, is operated by the Correctional Institutions Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.[1] The facility, the oldest Texas state prison, opened in 1849.[2]

The unit houses the execution chamber of the State of Texas. It is the most active execution chamber in the United States, with 580 (as of February 1, 2023)[3] executions since 1982, when the death penalty was reinstated in Texas (see Lists of people executed in Texas).[4]


Huntsville Unit's yard during the 1870s

The prison's first inmates arrived on October 2, 1849.[5] The unit was named after the County of Huntsville.[6] Robert Perkinson, the author of Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire, wrote that the unit was, within Texas, "the first public work of any importance".[7]

Originally Huntsville Unit was only for white Texans; the only penalties available to black Texans were whipping and hanging. During the American Civil War, prisoners at Huntsville produced tents and uniforms for Confederate forces at the prison textile factory.[8] After the Civil War ended, Huntsville Unit was the only prison in the former Confederate States of America to remain.[5] Perkinson stated that the prison became, within the state, the "first racially integrated public institution".[7]

Originally women in the Texas Prison System were housed in the Huntsville Unit.[9] Beginning in 1883 women were housed in the Johnson Farm, a privately owned cotton plantation near Huntsville.[10] During this time there was some concern that "immoral practices may be resorted to" in regards to the female prisoners.[11]

Historically the prison served as the administrative headquarters of the Texas Prison System and the Texas Department of Corrections;[12][13] the superintendent and the other executive officers worked in the prison, and all of the central offices of the system's departments and all of the permanent records were located in the prison.[12] In 1934 John Lomax and Alan Lomax recorded the earliest known recording of "This Little Light of Mine" when they recorded Jim Boyd of Jacksonville, Texas, singing at prison.[14][15]

In 1974, the prison was the site of an eleven-day siege, one of the longest hostage-taking sieges in United States history.[16] Three armed inmates (Fred Carrasco, Ignacio Cuevas, and Rudy Dominquez) held several hostages in the education department. The ringleader, Fred Carrasco, had been a porter in the chapel. Cuevas usually worked in the inmate dining hall. Ten hostages were employees of the prison system: two were educators, and one was a guard. Later on, the prison chaplain would also become a hostage. Four prisoners were also held as hostages. On the final day, the inmates tried to escape using chalkboards and hostages as shields.[17][page needed][18] Dominquez was killed in the attempt. Carrasco killed Elizabeth Beseda and then shot himself. Julia Standley was also killed that day. Ignacio Cuevas was executed on May 23, 1991 for her murder.[19][20]


The red brick walls led to the nickname "Walls Unit."

While the prison is officially the Huntsville Unit, the prison's red brick walls led to the nickname "Walls Unit."[21] The prison is 160 miles (260 km) southeast of Dallas and 70 miles (110 km) north of Houston.[22] The original cellblock had been closed for several years prior to 2011.[23] The electric chair was previously in a building adjacent to the institution's east wall. When the death row was in Huntsville, it was in the East Building.[24]


The warden of the Huntsville Unit is in charge of the maintenance of the Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery, the TDCJ prisoner cemetery.[25] Prisoners from this unit are assigned to maintain the cemetery.[26]

Release center[edit]

The Huntsville Unit serves as one of the TDCJ's regional release centers for male prisoners. Most male prisoners are released to be closer to their counties of conviction, approved release counties, and/or residences. Male prisoners who have detainers, are classified as sex offenders, have electronic monitoring imposed by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and/or have certain special conditions of the Super Intensive Supervision Program (SISP) are released from the Huntsville Unit, regardless of their counties of conviction, residences, and/or approved release counties.[27] Rick Thaler, the director of the Correctional Institutions Division, predicted in 2010 that the Huntsville Unit, which serves as the regional release center for Greater Houston, will remain the TDCJ's largest release center.[28] Throughout the history of the Texas Prison System 90% of male prisoners were sent to the unit for the final portions of their sentences before being released. Starting in September 2010 the TDCJ instead began to use regional release centers for male prisoners.[29]

Death penalty[edit]

The Huntsville Unit is the location of the State of Texas execution chamber.[30] The TDCJ houses male death row inmates in the Polunsky Unit and female death row inmates in the Mountain View Unit.[31]

Between 1819 and 1923 the method of execution was hanging until Texas authorized the use of the electric chair; the use of the electric chair ended the execution of death sentences by counties in Texas. The chair– often euphemistically called "Old Sparky" was constructed by inmates.[32] Between 1924 and 1964, 362 inmates were executed by electrocution. The chair now resides at the Texas Prison Museum, located on Interstate 45 on the north side of Huntsville which features displays of historical items from the prison system, including shanks and other items confiscated from inmates.

On one occasion the prison used a facility below the current warden's office as a death row for women. Emma "Straight Eight" Oliver, the first female death row inmate under Texas state jurisdiction, was sentenced to death in 1949. In 1951 her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Subsequently the Goree Unit and then the Mountain View Unit were used as women's death rows.[33]

Execution procedure[edit]

Inmates scheduled for execution are brought from death row on the Polunsky Unit to the Walls Unit early in the afternoon of their scheduled execution. Unlike other states, Texas prohibits inmates from getting special last meals (since 2011) because of abuse of the privilege by past prisoners and the rationale that they did not offer a meal to their victims and therefore should not be allowed a special recognition. Inmates can, but are not required to, make a last statement prior to their execution. By law executions are scheduled to begin after 6:00 p.m. Huntsville (Central) time.[34] The inmates are housed until that time about 30 feet (9.1 m) from the door of the execution chamber; the Texas Death House is located at the northeast corner of the Walls Unit, just below the #1 picket.[17][page needed] There is no law prohibiting multiple executions in a single day, but this has not happened since August 2000.

The execution chamber is a 9-foot (2.7 m) by 12-foot (3.7 m) room with mint green painted walls and a gurney. When Jim Willett was the warden of Huntsville Unit, he added a pillow to the gurney. Texas uses a single lethal dose of pentobarbital to execute condemned inmates.[35] Two adjacent rooms, which view into the execution room through glass windows, house two groups. One room is reserved for the family or families of the crime victim(s). The other is for the family of the condemned.[36]

Notable inmates[edit]

This list does not include death row inmates who were only housed in other units (Ellis, Polunsky, and/or Mountain View) and executed in Huntsville on the days of their executions.

Name Number Status Details
Chad Butler Transferred to Huntsville from the Terrell Unit in Brazoria County, Texas on the week of his release from the TDCJ system[37] Known as Pimp C, a rapper
Fred Carrasco Committed suicide Perpetrator of the 1974 Huntsville Prison Siege[38]
Henry Ray Clark Released, now deceased Artist[39] known as The Magnificent Pretty Boy
Duane 'DOG' Chapman TDCJ #271097 Served 18 months for a murder in 1977. Star of the television show Dog the Bounty Hunter
Jack Purvis Committed a robbery in El Paso, Texas[40] Musician
John Wesley Hardin Served from September 28, 1878, to March 16, 1894[41] Outlaw and gunfighter of the American Old West
Satanta Committed suicide in the prison[42] A Kiowa war chief
Carlos Coy TDCJ #01110642 Eligible for parole on October 7, 2024; projected release date April 8, 2047 Known as SPM (South Park Mexican), a rapper


Cultural references[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Huntsville Unit Archived 2008-03-30 at the Wayback Machine." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on May 10, 2010.
  2. ^ "Huntsville Prison Blues". Retrieved 2007-12-08.
  3. ^ "Death Row Information". Texas Department of Justice.
  4. ^ "Death Row Information". Archived from the original on 2013-04-15. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
  5. ^ a b Hollister, Stacy. "Texas Tidbits." Texas Monthly. July 2002. Retrieved on July 3, 2010.
  6. ^ "1995 Annual Report." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on July 21, 2010.
  7. ^ a b Roth, Mitchel P. "Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire (review)" (Archive). Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 2011, Vol.115(1), pp.106-107 [Peer Reviewed Journal] - Available at Project MUSE.
  8. ^ King, Michael. "Grim History." Austin Chronicle. August 20, 2010. Retrieved on December 11, 2010.
  9. ^ Perkinson, Robert. Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire. First Edition. Metropolitan Books, 2010. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-8050-8069-8. "Conditions at the Walls provoked criticism as well, particularly with respect to female prisoners."
  10. ^ Perkinson, Robert. Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire. First Edition. Metropolitan Books, 2010. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-8050-8069-8.
  11. ^ The Texas State Library and Archives. Fear Force and Leather: The Texas Prison System's First Hundred Years, 1848-1948. [1].
  12. ^ a b "Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. 2010-06-15. Retrieved 2010-07-24.
  13. ^ Renaud, Jorge Antonio. "Diagnostic." Behind the Walls: A Guide for Families and Friends of Texas Prison Inmates. University of North Texas Press, 2002. 1. ISBN 1-57441-153-5, ISBN 978-1-57441-153-9.
  14. ^ "Kodály Center for Music Education - Song".
  15. ^ "This little light of mine".
  16. ^ "Blood Hostages", TIME, August 12, 1974. Retrieved on 2008-07-13.
  17. ^ a b Warden by Jim Willett and Ron Rozelle
  18. ^ "Observer-Reporter - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  19. ^ cuevas.jpg (). Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
  20. ^ "Participant in Prison Siege Is Executed in Texas". The New York Times. 1991-05-23. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  21. ^ Graczyk, Michael. "Tales from inside Texas death row." Associated Press at The Victoria Advocate. Sunday April 10, 2005. 1C. Retrieved from Google News (Page 16 of 47) on July 24, 2010.
  22. ^ "Texas ejecutó a un hispano." Univision. April 28, 2010. "[...]en la unidad carcelaria Walls, en Huntsville, a unos 250 kilómetros al sureste de Dallas."
  23. ^ Ward, Mike. "Budget writers agree to shut old prison." Austin American-Statesman. Tuesday May 17, 2011. Retrieved on September 23, 2011.
  24. ^ "Death Row Facts." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on September 23, 2014.
  25. ^ "Eternity's gate slowly closing at Peckerwood Hill." Houston Chronicle. August 3, 2012. Retrieved on March 16, 2014.
  26. ^ Ross, Robyn. "Laid to Rest in Huntsville" (Archived 2014-03-16 at the Wayback Machine) Texas Observer. Tuesday, March 11, 2014. Retrieved on March 16, 2014.
  27. ^ "General Information Guide for Families of Offenders." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. December 2010. 36 (40/46). Retrieved on March 1, 2011.
  28. ^ "New regional release centers now operating across state Archived 2011-02-20 at the Wayback Machine." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. September–October 2010. Retrieved on March 1, 2011.
  29. ^ Schiller, Dane. "Walking free - now what?" Houston Chronicle. May 9, 2010. Retrieved on May 10, 2010.
  30. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions Victim Survivors Viewing Executions Archived 2010-07-25 at the Wayback Machine." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on August 15, 2010. "Executions in Texas normally take place around 6:00 p.m. at the Huntsville Unit in downtown Huntsville, Texas."
  31. ^ "Death Row Facts Archived August 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on August 15, 2010.
  32. ^ "Texas Prison Museum: Home of Old Sparky". Retrieved 2007-12-08.
  33. ^ Jackson, Bruce and Diane Christian. In This Timeless Time: Living and Dying on Death Row in America. University of North Carolina, 2012. ISBN 0807835390, 9780807835395. p. 143.
  34. ^ Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 43.14, "Execution of Convict"
  35. ^ Fernandez, Manny; Schwartz, John (2014-05-12). "Confronted on Execution, Texas Proudly Says It Kills Efficiently". The New York Times.
  36. ^ Perkinson, Robert. Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire. First Edition. Metropolitan Books, 2010. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-8050-8069-8.
  37. ^ "Rapper Pimp C released from prison Archived June 29, 2011, at the Wayback Machine." KTRK-TV. Friday December 20, 2005. Retrieved on November 19, 2010.
  38. ^ "Ignacio Cuevas Archived 2011-06-11 at the Wayback Machine." Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Retrieved on December 4, 2010.
  39. ^ "Art turned around Henry Ray Clark's troubled life". 2006-08-02. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
  40. ^ Hollandsworth, Skip. "O Sister, Where Art Thou?" Texas Monthly. May 2003. 2. Retrieved on October 20, 2011.
  41. ^ "Outlaws: John Wesley Hardin". FrontierTimes. Retrieved 2013-04-22.
  42. ^ "Satanta." Handbook of Texas. Retrieved on October 26, 2010.

External links[edit]