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Walking George

The Life of George John Beto and the Rise of the Modern Texas Prison System

David M. Horton and George R. Nielsen

Publication Year: 2005

George John Beto (1916-1991) is best known for his contributions to criminal justice, but his fame is not limited to this field. Walking George , authored by two of his former students, David M. Horton and George R. Nielsen, examines the entire life of Beto and his many achievements in the fields of both education and criminal justice—and how he wedded the two whenever possible. Beto initially studied to become a Lutheran pastor but instead was called to teach at Concordia Lutheran College in Austin, Texas. During his twenty years at that institution he became its president, expanded it into a junior college, racially integrated it, made it co-educational, and expanded its facilities. His successes convinced the administrators of the church to present him with a challenge to revitalize a seminary in Springfield, Illinois. He accepted the challenge in 1959, but after three years of progress, he left the seminary to become the head of the Texas Department of Corrections. Although Beto had no real academic training in corrections and had never served in any administrative position in corrections, he had learned incidentally. During his last six years in Austin, he had served on the Texas Prison Board, a volunteer board that supervised the entire prison system. As a board member he established one of the earliest General Education Development testing programs for prisoners. Fortuitously, his years on the board came during the time when reform of the Texas prisons was the watchword. During his ten-year term as the director of the Texas Department of Corrections, Beto continued the reform program. Most notable were his efforts at rehabilitation of the inmates and his attempt at refining a method of managing prisoners, called the Texas Control Model. He persuaded the Texas state legislature to enact a law requiring state agencies to purchase manufactured goods from state prisons, which tremendously expanded industry and training for inmates. In 1969, at Beto’s urging, the Windham school district for educating inmates became a reality, the first of its kind at any prison in the United States. Beto’s predilection to show up on foot in front of a given Texas prison, at all hours of the day and night, ready for an inspection and tour, earned him the nickname “Walking George.” After retiring as head of the Texas prison system in 1972, he became a professor at Sam Houston State University's College of Criminal Justice until 1991. His leadership and participation propelled it to become the most esteemed program in the country. Beto’s personal force and unique accomplishments defined him as one of the premier American penologists of the twentieth century. This is the first in-depth biography of the man and his contributions.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: Crime and Criminal Justice Series


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Half Title

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pp. ii-ii


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pp. iii-iii

Title Page

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pp. iv-v


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pp. vi-vi


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pp. vii-vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. viii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

...fore, not inconceivable that two mortals were needed to write his biography. George Nielsen, one of the authors, grew up in Thorn-dale, Texas, a small town about an hour's drive from Austin. His family, typical of many during the Depression and war years, was not poor, but disposable income was scarce and reserved for ...

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Chapter 1. The Early Years: Hysham, Montana; New Rockford, North Dakota; and Lena, Illinois (1916–1939

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pp. 1-22

...“I love this country,” proclaimed George Beto in a 1981 speech.“My grandparents came from the ghettos of Prague, from virtual Netherlands. . . . In spite of handicaps—ignorance of the language and culture of this land—they were able to carve out for themselves respectable places on the economic, social, religious, and political...

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Chapter 2. Concordia Lutheran College, Austin, Texas (1939–1959)

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pp. 23-47

...Concordia College, Beto’s initial place of employment, had been founded thirteen years earlier in October 1926, and like other preperatory schools of the synod, was modeled after the German Gymnasium. It differed ...

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Chapter 3. The Texas Prison System: The First One Hundred Years (1849–1953

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pp. 48-7581

In 1849, one hundred years before Beto’s installation as Concordia’s president, the first convict was confined in the partially completed penitentiary at Huntsville. During the hundred years that followed, the administrators of the state of Texas attempted to balance public safety, the humane treatment of prisoners, and fiscal...

Photo Insert

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pp. Insert -Insert

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Chapter 4. The Texas Prison Board: Beto, Coffield, and Ellis (1953–1959)

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pp. 59-81

Beto’s appointment to the Prison Board was a political act, and politics played a role in the governor’s decision. Even though Beto’s mother was an ardent Republican, Beto, already during his years as a student in Milwaukee, believed that the Republican party lacked a social conscience.”1 When Beto arrived in Texas in 1939 the...

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Chapter 5. Concordia Theological Seminary, Springfield, Illinois (1959–1962)

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pp. 82-108

As any schoolboy knows, both Austin and Springfield are capitals of their respective states. But as any Texan will tell you, Austin is the more beautiful and exciting of the two. While Austin is situated on the lovely wooded hills of the Balcones Escarpment along the impressive Colorado River, Springfield is built on a flat, glaciated plain surrounded by some of the most productive farmland ...

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Chapter 6. The Texas Department of Corrections (1962–1972)

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pp. 109-152

Huntsville, Texas, home of the famed Walls Unit and the administrative center of the Texas Department of Corrections (now the Institutional Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice), is the county seat of Walker County, approximately seventy-five miles north of Houston. Founded in 1835 as an Indian trading post, the town is situated in the lush ...

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Chapter 7. Sam Houston State University (1972–1991)

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pp. 153-190

August 31, 1972, was Beto’s last day as head of the Texas Department of Corrections; September 1, 1972, was his first day as Distinguished Professor of Corrections at Sam Houston State University’s Institute of Contemporary Corrections and Behavioral Sciences. Beto’s new career was by no means a journey into the unknown. Although his occupational change required a different residence, it did not demand a change ...

Appendix A. “Prison Administration and the Eighth Amendment”

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pp. 191-198

Appendix B. The Writings of George John Beto

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pp. 199-206


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pp. 207-238

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 239-244


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pp. 245-257

E-ISBN-13: 9781574414011
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574411997

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 25 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Crime and Criminal Justice Series
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OCLC Number: 228136522
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Walking George

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Subject Headings

  • Texas. Dept. of Corrections -- Officials and employees -- Biography.
  • Beto, George John, 1916-1991.
  • College teachers -- Texas -- Biography.
  • Prisons -- Texas -- Officials and employees -- Biography.
  • Prison administration -- Texas -- History.
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