Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville or Huntsville Unit (HV), nicknamed “Walls Unit“, is a Texas state prison located in Huntsville, Texas, United States. The approximately 54.36-acre (22.00 ha) facility, near Downtown Huntsville, is operated by the Correctional Institutions Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), administered as within Region I. The facility, the oldest Texas state prison, opened in 1849.
The unit houses the execution chamber of the State of Texas. It is the most active execution chamber in the United States, with 573 (as of September 28, 2021) executions since 1982, when the death penalty was reinstated in Texas (see Lists of people executed in Texas).
The prison’s first inmates arrived on October 2, 1849. The unit was named after the County of Huntsville. Robert Perkinson, the author of Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire, wrote that the unit was, within Texas, “the first public work of any importance”.
Originally Huntsville Unit was only for white Texans; the only penalties available to black Texans were whipping and hanging. During the American Civil War, prisoners at Huntsville produced tents and uniforms for Confederate forces at the prison textile factory. After the Civil War ended, Huntsville Unit was the only prison in the former Confederate States of America to remain. Perkinson stated that the prison became, within the state, the “first racially integrated public institution”.
Originally women in the Texas Prison System were housed in the Huntsville Unit. Beginning in 1883 women were housed in the Johnson Farm, a privately owned cotton plantation near Huntsville. During this time there was some concern that “immoral practices may be resorted to” in regards to the female prisoners.
Historically the prison served as the administrative headquarters of the Texas Prison System and the Texas Department of Corrections; the superintendent and the other executive officers worked in the prison, and all of the central offices of the system’s departments and all of the permanent records were located in the prison. In 1934 John Lomax and Alan Lomax recorded the earliest known recording of “This Little Light of Mine” when they recorded Jim Boyd of Jacksonville, Texas, singing at prison.
In 1974, the prison was the site of an eleven-day siege, one of the longest hostage-taking sieges in United States history. Three armed inmates (Fred Carrasco, Ignacio Cuevas, and Rudy Dominquez) held several hostages in the education department. The ring leader, Carrasco, had been a porter in the chapel. Cuevas usually worked in the inmate dining hall. Ten hostages were employees of the prison system: two were educators, and one was a guard. Later on, the prison chaplain would also become a hostage. Four prisoners were also held as hostages. On the final day, the inmates tried to escape using chalkboards and hostages as shields.[page needed] Dominquez was killed in the attempt. Carrasco killed Elizabeth Beseda, then shot himself. Julia Standley was also killed that day. Ignacio Cuevas was executed on May 23, 1991, for her murder.