Prison System: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division- Prisons, Region I
Status: Active, opened in 1993. Formerly the Terrell Unit.
Offender Gender: Male
Employees: 691 total employees; 533 security employees; 109 non-security employees
Security Level: SuperMax, Maximum, Texas custody levels G1-G5, Death Row
Distinguishing Feature: Houses Texas’s Male Death Row Inmates
Number of Inmates: 2,942 (as of December 2015)
Maximum Capacity: 2,984
The Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas houses some of the criminals deemed to be the most dangerous by the State of Texas. The facility consists of 23 concrete buildings on 472 acres of land, surrounded by fields and forests. It is surrounded by razor wire and guard towers. Polunsky was specifically designed as a SuperMax facility that would be capable of handling the most dangerous offenders in the Texas prison system. It is primarily an administrative segregation facility; inmates are in solitary confinement due, not to the nature of their crimes, but to their behavior once they have entered the prison system. Death row inmates are in solitary confinement because of their death sentences and are housed in Building 12, which was initially an administrative segregation facility.
Most of the inmates at Polunsky have been convicted of violent crimes including aggravated robbery, burglary of a habitation, burglary of a building, aggravated sexual assault of a child, murder, capital murder, indecency with a child, aggravated sexual assault, and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. While most of the offenders have been committed of violent crimes, a number of inmates have been convicted of drug-related offenses. The majority of inmates at Polunsky are serving extended sentences. Most inmates at the facility have sentences that are greater than 20 years. Polunsky also houses a number of death row inmates; it is the location of Texas’ death row for men and houses all of the death row inmates that are not getting treatment at other facilities, most notably Jester IV, the psychiatric facility.
Polunsky is known for its harsh living conditions for prisoners. As with most death rows, the prisoners on death row live in isolation and are not eligible for prison rehabilitation programs, because of the assumption that they will be executed, and, therefore, do not need to be rehabilitated in order to rejoin society. However, the living conditions at Polunsky are so harsh that they may actually make prisoners more dangerous to themselves, to other prisoners, and to the prison guards and civilian jail employees. The isolation or SuperMax cells are small: 60 square feet. Rather than the bars one associates with prison, the cells have solid cement walls and solid steel doors with a narrow window at the top and a slit at the bottom. The inmates in these isolation cells get their food through the slit in the bottom of the door, which is a common practice in isolation units. Inmates are allowed books, paper, some writing instruments, and radios, though their access to those materials is behavior-dependent. Isolation is not limited to preventing inmates from accessing other people in the prison; they do not have access to the internet, have limited visitation opportunities, and have limited opportunities for phone calls. All mail into and out of the prison is examined by prison officials.
The isolation in these cells is almost entirely complete. The inmates only spend 10 hours a week out of their cells, and that time is either spent in the shower or in an exercise cage, where they are placed in individual cages, but do have the opportunity to talk to other inmates exercising in nearby cages. Before an inmate can leave his cell, he is handcuffed and secured. Furthermore, each exit from a cell is accompanied by a strip search. These conditions help explain why Polunsky has been ranked as one of the ten worst prisons in the United States by Mother Jones and was the subject of congressional testimony by former inmate Anthony Charles Graves, who was released from death row after his conviction was overturned.
While Polunsky houses the majority of Texas’s death row inmates, executions do not occur at Polunsky, but at the Walls Unit of the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas.
Prisoners who are not on death row or restricted to solitary confinement can participate in a number of programs, including: GED programs, cognitive intervention programs, career training programs, several faith-based programs, community work with the local food bank, substance abuse programs, support groups, life skills training, and parenting training.
The prison has several agricultural facilities and is the sight of a box manufacturing plant. Eligible prisoners can work at the factory or in agricultural production.
Until 1998, death row inmates in Texas were housed at the Ellis Unit in Huntsville. In November of 1998, a death row inmate escaped from the Ellis Unit. Although Martin Gurule drowned during his escape, the successful attempt made the Texas Department of Criminal Justice fast-track existing plans to move death row to another unit, choosing the Terrell Unit as the most appropriate location. The transfer of death row and other high security inmates was the largest such transfer of condemned prisoners in history. It was conducted under heavy security over a 10 month period during 1999 and early 2000. The transfer and Polunsky’s subsequent adjustment to a death row facility was not flawless; in February 2000, just after the transfer of inmates was complete, Howard Guidry and Ponchai Wilkerson took a female guard hostage as a ploy to force negotiations with the warden. Later in 2000, another inmate attacked a prison chaplain and used the design of the isolation cells to his advantage, by trapping the chaplain’s arm in the cell and then attacking the chaplain, forcing prison officials to use tear gas to free the chaplain.
The Terrell Unit’s name was changed to the Allan B. Polunsky Unit on July 20, 2001. However, at the same time the Ramsey III Unit in Brazoria County, Texas, was renamed the Terrell Unit.
The Polunsky Unit does not house any nationally famous residents, though it does house a number of killers who are notorious in Texas including the members of the Texas 7 and the murderers of James Byrd, Jr.
Year Built or Opened: 1993 Warden or Supervisor: Todd Harris Daily Inmate Count: 2942 Security Level(s): Maxiumum
Inmate Name and Inmate ID
Polunsky Unit (TL)- Texas State Prison
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston TX, 77351
Fax Number: 936-967-8054
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351