Gatesville Texas State Reformatory near Waco

May 7th, 2011 Comments Off on Gatesville Texas State Reformatory near Waco

A class-action lawsuit, filed against the Texas Youth Council on behalf of juvenile offenders in 1971, marked the beginning of sweeping changes in the Texas juvenile justice system. The school enrolled approximately 1,500 boys and employed over 250 staff members in 1974, when federal judge William Wayne Justice issued a ruling in Morales v. Turman. The judge ruled that a number of practices at Texas Youth Council facilities constituted cruel and unusual punishment that violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Staff members routinely dispensed arbitrary and unnecessary punishments that included beating, solitary confinement, the use of chemical crowd-control devices, and the utilization of drugs instead of psychotherapy as a means for controlling behavior. Justice also concluded that the school’s staff failed to protect the inmates from violence and personal injury and that most employees lacked proper qualifications and training for supervising troubled youths.

Judge Justice ordered the state to close the Gatesville and Mountain View schools and to develop community alternatives to large juvenile penal institutions. During 1979 the Gatesville State School for Boys closed, and the Texas Youth Council placed juvenile offenders in smaller schools at Brownwood, Crockett, Gainesville, Giddings, and Pyote, as well as at a number of foster and group homes, halfway houses, and residential treatment centers. The Riverside, Valley, and Terrace schools became the Gatesville Unit for female inmates of the Texas Department of Corrections in 1980. The Hilltop and Hackberry schools composed the Hilltop Unit for male felons of the Texas Department of Corrections beginning in 1981.


Steve J. Martin and Sheldon Ekland-Olson, Texas Prisons: The Walls Came Tumbling Down (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1987). Morales v. Turman, 383, Federal Supplement 53 (St. Paul, Minnesota: West, 1975). Texas State Board of Control, Report. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin (Texas Youth Council).

James W. Markham and William T. Field

Read about Ernesto Rodriguez’ experiences at Gatesville Reformatory in Chapter Three and Chapter Four of In the Iron Cage.