Texas Death Penalty Education (FAQ)

The Texas death penalty education project is geared towards educating the public as well as prisoners on Texas death row. We want to keep family members, activists and supporters informed about the ins and outs of that system so that we will be better prepared when facing that system. The following information is for educational purposes only.

Where is Texas death row housed?

Death row in Texas is housed at the Alan B. Polunsky Unit, a prison in Livingston, Texas. The death row is in a separated building of that prison, called “12 building”. Prisoners from general population who break the rules can be housed here for a limited period of time, too. This is called administrative segregation (Ag. Seg.).

Are Texas death row prisoners allowed to work?

Texas death row prisoners are confined to their cages for 22 hours a day five days a week. Two days they do not come out at all, when they do come out they are still separated from everyone. They have no privileges except weekly visits, mail, and commissary. They cannot work.

Are Texas death row prisoners allowed phone calls?

They are allowed phone calls of five minutes every 90 days, depending on good behavior. But most times requests go unanswered.

What electronic devices do Texas death row prisoners have?

They are allowed a radio, type writer, fan, hot pot, night light, calculator and alarm clock.

Are there specific mail rules?

The mail rules are the most stringent in the US. Texas death row prisoners, all prisoners in Texas prisons, are only allowed to receive letters, photos and print outs from the internet directly from people. Other items must come from an approved vendor.

An approved vendor is Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble, among others, the prison has an approved list. One can order books and magazine subscriptions. Everything else must be bought from the prisons store called commissary.

What is sold at the prison’s commissary?

The prison commissary runs like a store in the free world. You send money to the prisoner’s account (he cannot receive money directly), and the prisoner fills out a list where he orders things, like electronics, hygiene, stamps to write people, etc.

How many stamps can a prisoner purchase at one time?

International postage for a regular letter costs $1.15, national US postage costs $0.49, so a prisoner must buy the postage at commissary he needs. He cannot buy more than 30 stamps at a time. The prison allows going to commissary every two weeks, unless there is a lock down.

What is a lockdown?

Lockdown is where there is no movement in the prison; the prisoners are confined to their cages all day. During this time guards go through their property to search for contraband (things they say the prisoner is not entitled to have).

Do Texas death row prisoners have to pay for medical treatment?

As of right now, all prisoners have to pay a $100 co-payment fee for certain medical treatments. The list of treatments will be posted soon.

What is recreation?

Recreation is when the prisoner is allowed to come out of his cage and go into a bigger cage for two hours (alone). In this cage there is a pull up bar and table. The prisoner is very limited in what he can do. There is an outside recreation yard, too. There the prisoner can shoot basketball by his self.

What happens when a prisoner breaks the rules?

When a prisoner breaks certain rules, he is punished certain ways. For instance if he breaks a minor rule he may have his commissary chances suspended for a certain amount of days. If he breaks a major rule, like refusing to comply with an order, then he is subject to having his level dropped.

What is level 1, 2 and 3?

Texas death row prisoners are housed by levels: level 1, 2 and 3. Level 1 is when you have all “privileges”, commissary, visits weekly and recreation five days a week. Level 2 is when you break a major rule, here you get two visits a month and only are able to buy hygiene and postage at commissary. Level three is for when a prisoner is violent; here you get one recreation hour four times a week and one visit a month.

What are the visitation rules?

Visitation are non-contact, they are done in a small booth with phones where the prisoner and visitor can talk to one another. At the visit, the visitor can buy drinks and food for the inmate. Each visit lasts for two hours unless you come to the prison over 400 miles away, then you are allowed to a special visit which is 4 hours on two consecutive days (so 8 hours at all).

For detailed information please read:

TDCJ General Information Guide for Families of Offenders

TDCJ Offender Rules and Regulations for Visitation

If you plan to visit somebody on Texas death row, we highly recommend the website of Gabi Uhl for more information :

A Visitor’s Guide for Texas Death Row

How much money can a prisoner spend at commissary?

The prisoner is allowed to spend $85 every two weeks at commissary. So he is allowed to spend $170 each month, but there are some electronics that costs more than the allowed spend. For instance the type writer is $225, if a prisoner buys a type writer it does not count against his food spend. But he would need more money to do so the same with shoes, they cost $40. Everything else comes off a prisoners spend limit.

Can I send a gift to a death row prisoner?

There are several ways to support a prisoner. You can send money to the prisoner’s commissary account, or order food for the prisoner via Texas e-commissary store. You can also send books or magazine subscriptions directly through an authorized vendor like Amazon.

How can I send money to the prisoner?

You can send money through the Official TDCJ Commissary and Trust Fund Depositor through a website called Jpay, where you can send money and write electronic letters to the prisoner.

How much property can a prisoner have?

A prisoner is allowed to keep as much legal property as he needs to fight his appeals. But his other property is severely restricted. Mainly the prison officials allow to keep only property that will fit into the locker box in the cages.

If the prisoner has a legal issue at the prison, how does he handle it?

Prisoners are allowed to file grievances against the illegal activity of prison officials. If the grievance is successful, then the issues will be rectified. If not, the prisoner will need to file a complaint with the ombudsman´s office.

What is the ombudsman´s office?

This is an office that oversees each prison, so if a prisoner files a grievance and the grievance is denied on the prison level, then he can ask the ombudsman´s office to look into the grievance. Also people from outside can contact the ombudsman if they have a question or grievance. 

Does the prisoner have the opportunity to study legal books? 

They have a prison library in the prison, but the prisoner is only allowed to receive print outs/copies of certain parts of the book he needs to order. He is severely limited. If a prisoner puts in a request for an item he is allowed one day to keep each item. There is also the opportunity to send prisoners legal books from online bookstores.

Educational information about Texas death row

Information about the Habeas Corpus habeas-corpus-evaluation.pdf

Information about Writs for the Habeas Corpuswrit-guide.pdf

Information about the Post-Conviction ProcessPst Conviction Process.pdf

Texas Penal CodeTexas Penal Code.pdf