The announcement, made in 1822, that Jefferson City would soon become the state capital of Missouri was not greeted with unanimous enthusiasm across the state. Nearly a decade later, in 1831, Jefferson City's hold on capital city status was still a tenuous one. To ensure that it remain the seat of government, Governor John Miller suggested a prison be built in Jefferson City.
On January 3, 1833, the Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill to build a penitentiary in Jefferson City. The margin was 25 to 24. A fund of $25,000 was allocated for construction and October 1, 1834, was named as the deadline for completion. Governor Daniel Dunklin appointed James Dunnica and John Walker to serve as commissioners in charge of building the new facility.