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Final money push for women’s prison chapel in Burnet; work starts soon

Ellen Halbert Unit in Burnet

The Ellen Halbert Unit women’s prison at 800 Ellen Halbert Drive in Burnet. Nonprofit group Joseph’s Hammer plans to start construction on a chapel for the prison in the near future. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

More money is needed for a women’s prison chapel in Burnet before construction starts in August. Nonprofit group Joseph’s Hammer is making a final push for funding for the Ellen Halbert Unit addition, which it has been planning since 2018. The organization hopes to raise another $650,000 to $700,000.

Joseph’s Hammer Chairwoman Pam Stevenson updated the Burnet County Commissioners Court on the chapel’s progress on Tuesday, July 25. 

The group is moving forward on construction, she said, but needs more support to cross the finish line.

“Our board has voted recently to go ahead and step out in faith,” she told the commissioners. “We are here to ask the entire community to get behind us with this last big push.”

Joseph’s Hammer has raised $1.85 million for the chapel so far. The building will be donated to the state once it is completed. The prison, located at 800 Ellen Halbert Drive, is part of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system and was built in 1995. It has never had a dedicated worship space.

Money already raised is enough to build the 8,250-square-foot structure, which will include classrooms. Additional funding will go toward interior work, such as air conditioning, plumbing, and electric. 

Joseph’s Hammer was founded in 2018 specifically to build a chapel for the inmates at the prison unit, a rehabilitation facility for women with substance abuse issues. It processes an average of 1,100 women a year, many of whom are first-time offenders assigned to six- to eight-month rehab programs designed to get them back on their feet after they are released.

Joseph’s Hammer has 24 months to complete the chapel, according to a recently negotiated deal with the TDCJ. Stevenson said it took 21 months for plans to be fully vetted by the state, and in that time, COVID-19 and ensuing supply chain issues dramatically bumped up the price and delayed work.

“We were going to be raising the money anyway. Now, we’re just going to get started,” she said. “You’re going to see some bulldozers going down that road, and we are about to break ground for real.”

To learn more about the Ellen Halbert Unit chapel and how to help, visit