When Freedom Cried Out
The Freedmen's Bureau in Texas



An Act to provide for the employment of Convicts for petty offences.

Section 1. Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Texas, That whenever any person is hereafter convicted of a misdemeanor or petty offence, and as a punishment therefor, is sentenced to be imprisoned in the County Jail of any county, it shall be lawful for the Police Court of the county to employ such convict to labor upon the public buildings or other public works of the county, or upon the public roads of the county, during the whole term of his imprisonment, or any part thereof; and they are further authorized to employ or let the labor of such convicts for hire, to work at any mechanical or other employment, under such rules and regulations as may be prescribed by said Police Court.

Sec. 2. Said Police Court is also authorized to employ, in like manner, the labor of all convicts who may be under sentence of imprisonment for the non-payment of a fine imposed by any Court of this State, for the commission of a misdemeanor or petty offence, in which case the convict shall receive a credit of one dollar for each days' work done by him, and when the whole fine and costs are thus paid by him he shall be discharged from imprisonment, unless he is held for some other legal cause; and all persons arrested and confined in jail on any criminal charge or complaint of a misdemeanor or petty offence, may be employed by order of such Police Courts, in like manner, from the time of imprisonment until the time of trial, and if upon trial, such person shall be acquitted and discharged, he shall be paid. not less than twentv-five cents nor more than one dollar, in the discretion of said Court, for each days' work; provided, that before trial and conviction no person shall be held to labor by order of said Court, without his consent.

Sec. 3. All money which may be realized under the provisions of this Act, shall be paid into the County Treasury, and may be appropriated for the benefit of the county, in such manner as the Police Court may direct.

Sec. 4. That this Act take effect and be in force from and after its passage.

Approved November 9, 1866.


An Act to Provide for the Employment of Convict Labor on Works of Public Utility.

Section 1. Be i enacted by the Legislature of the State of Texas. That persons now convicted of offences, and incarcerated in the State Penitentiary, or who shall hereafter be convicted of offences, for which the punishment is confinement in the Penitentiary, shall be divided into two classes, in the manner, and for the purposes hereinafter set forth. See. 2. Persons now convicted, or who shall be hereafter convicted of the crimes of murder, arson, rape, horse stealing, burglary, perjury or robbery, shall constitute the first class; persons convicted of other offences than those just recited, for which the punishment is incarceration, shall constitute the second class.

Sec. 3. The punishment of persons constituting the first class, shall continue the same as at present established and provided for by law. Convicts of the second class shall be employed on works of public utility, outside of the Penitentiary, under the orders and supervision of the Board of Public Labor, to be hereafter established, in such manner as shall be hereafter provided by law.

Sec. 4. The guarding, control of labor, subsistence and medical attention of convicts employed under this Act, shall be under officers and persons employed and paid by the State.

Sec. 5. The building of railroads, including herein the making of the grade, the cutting and laying of ties,, and the laying of the track, all works for the improvement of the navigation of rivers, bays, channels, and harbors; for irrigating lands; all working of mines of iron, lead, copper, or of coal, or of other valuable minerals; all working in iron foundries, where railroad iron shall be made, shall be deemed works of public utility in the intent of this Act, whether any of the above named works shall belong to the State, or be the property of any corporation, company, or individual. It shall, moreover, be competent for the Board of Public Labor to declare any other works of obvious and manifest public utility, to be public works, in the sense herein set forth, and to authorize the employment of convict labor on the same, as provided for in this Act.

Sec. 6. In the employment of convicts, as provided for herein, they shall be employed in gangs or parties of not less than twenty convicts in each gang or party engaged on any work.

Sec. 7. There shall be, and there is hereby established a Board, to be styled and known as the Board of Public Labor, which shall be composed of the Governor of the State, the Secretary of State, the Comptroller, the Attorney General and Treasurer of the State. Three members of the Board shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business. Sec. S. The Board is hereby authorized to appoint suitable persons as agents to receive gangs of convicts, and to superintend the guarding, working, clothing, subsisting and providing medical attendance for such gangs of convicts.

Sec. 9. The Treasurer, acting under the orders of the Board of Public Labor, shall be, and he is hereby authorized and required to make contracts with individuals, or companies, or corporations for the employment of convicts to do work on works of public utility, coming within the intendment of this Act, and in conformity with the provisions of the same; and for the faithful performance of such contracts, on the part of parties s', hiring, or employment of convict labor, he shall require to be executed a bond, with two good and sufficient sureties, payable to the Governor of the State, in double the amount of the money stipulated for such labor; and all monies due and received for such labor shall be paid into the State Treasury, an account of which shall be kept, under the name of the Convict Labor Fund. An account of all monies expended under the provisions of this Act shall also be kept; and the Treasurer, in his annual report, shall make .an exhibit of all monies so paid in, and of those so expended.

Sec. 10. The proper guards for watching and securing convicts employed out side of the Penitentiary, by virtue of this Act, shall be employed, and paid in the manner now provided by law for the employment of guards in the Penitentiary, to secure convicts against escape, the agent having charge of any gang may cause to be placed a ball and chain on each convict, under such rules and regulations thereof as the Board of Public Labor shall establish. IIe is also authorized to place refractory convicts, under such regulations of the Board, in a chain gang.

Sec. 11. The convicts employed outside of the Penitentiary, under this Act, shall receive their clothing from the Penitentiary, and it is hereby made the duty of the Superintendent of the Penitentiary to issue to the agent, 'on his requisition, approved by the Governor, or President of the Board, all necessary clothing for the convicts under his charge.

Sec. 12. The subsistence of the convicts, contemplated in this Act, may be provided by the agent, and furnished at cost, or it may be stipulated to be furnished by parties hiring and employing convicts under this Act, as the same shall be authorized or ordered by the Board of Public Labor. But in all cases, it shall be sound and good in quality, and sufficient in quantity, and the Board shall establish such proper rules for securing this object. And any failure on the part of parties, whose duty it may be to furnish subsistence, shall be good cause to rescind a contract for labor or to dismiss an agent.

Sec. 13. It shall be, and it is hereby made the duty of every agent, to see that good medical attention shall be always at hand for convicts who may need such attention. And for this purpose the agent shall be required to employ a contract physician, at a sum not to exceed one dollar per month for such convict under his charge.

Sec. 14. It is hereby made the duty of the Board of Labor to establish rules and regulations for prohibiting all persons not expressly authorized from holding conversation, or remaining with or near convicts employed under this Act.

Sec. 15. Persons convicted of offences punishable by imprisonment shall be forwarded to the State Penitentiary, as heretofore; and it shall be stated in the order sending them to the Penitentiary, whether they are embraced in the first or second class of convicts, as provided in this Act; and those of the- second class shall be delivered, by the Superintendent of the Penitentiary, to an authorized agent, on the order of the President of the Board of Public Labor; but nothing contained herein shall be so construed as to prevent the Superintendent from retaining in the Penitentiary as many convicts as may be profitably employed therein.

Sec. 16. To stimulate convicts employed outside of the Penitentiary to good conduct and to reform, each convict shall, on serving out his full term, be entitled to receive, in money, one-third of the net proceeds of his wages, on the certificate of the Board of Public Labor for general meritorious conduct during the period for which he has been held to labor, to be paid on the draft of the President of said Board on the Treasurer.

Sec. 17. Any convict attempting to escape, refusing to work, or otherwise guilty of refractory conduct, may, at the discretion of the agent, or by orders from the Board of Public Labor, be sent to the Penitentiary, to serve out the balance of his term, at hard labor in the Penitentiary.

Sec. I8. The Board of Public Labor is hereby authorized and required to make such regulations, and all necessary by-laws, to carry the provisions of this Act into effect.

Approved November 12, 1866.

  Extracted from Gammel's The Laws of Texas