Decades after the U.S. Supreme Court and certain governmental actions struck down racial segregation in the larger society, American prison administrators still boldly adhered to discriminatory practices. Not until 1975 did legislation prohibit racial segregation and discrimination in Texas prisons. However, vestiges of this practice endured behind prison walls. Charting the transformation from segregation to desegregation in Texas prisons—which resulted in Texas prisons becoming one of the most desegregated places in America—First Available Cell chronicles the pivotal steps in the process, including prison director George J. Beto's 1965 decision to allow inmates of different races to co-exist in the same prison setting, defying Southern norms.
The authors also clarify the significant impetus for change that emerged in 1972, when a Texas inmate filed a lawsuit alleging racial segregation and discrimination in the Texas Department of Corrections. Perhaps surprisingly, a multiracial group of prisoners sided with the TDC, fearing that desegregated housing would unleash racial violence. Members of the security staff also feared and predicted severe racial violence. Nearly two decades after the 1972 lawsuit, one vestige of segregation remained in place: the double cell. Revealing the aftermath of racial desegregation within that 9 x 5 foot space, First Available Cell tells the story of one of the greatest social experiments with racial desegregation in American history.
Chad R. Trulson is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of North Texas in Denton and the co-author of Juvenile Justice: The System, Process, and Law.
James W. Marquart is Associate Provost and Professor of Criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas, where he also directs the criminology and sociology programs and has co-authored numerous books, including the award-winning The Rope, the Chair, and the Needle: Capital Punishment in Texas, 1923–1990.
This book fills a critical niche, providing an engaging story of an important set of events. The desegregation lessons learned have wide applicability.
From Segregation to Desegregation in Texas Prisons: A Timeline
Part I. The Outside
Chapter 1. Broken Barriers
Chapter 2. An Institutional Fault Line
Chapter 3. 18,000 Days
Part II. The Inside
Chapter 4. The Color Line Persists
Chapter 5. Cracks in the Color Line
Chapter 6. Full Assault on the Color Line
Chapter 7. The Color Line Breaks
Chapter 8. 7,000 Days Later
Chapter 9. Life in the First Available Cell
Part III. A Colorless Society?
Chapter 10. The Most Unlikely Place
Stay connected for our latest books and special offers.
We live in an information-rich world. As a publisher of international scope, the University of Texas Press serves the University of Texas at Austin community, the people of Texas, and knowledge seekers around the globe by identifying the most valuable and relevant information and publishing it in books, journals, and digital media that educate students; advance scholarship in the humanities and social sciences; and deepen humanity’s understanding of history, current events, contemporary culture, and the natural environment.