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Travis County, named for Alamo commander William Barrett Travis, was created on January 25, 1840. Originally part of Bastrop County, Travis covered 40,000 square miles and was later divided into 14 separate counties. The population of the city was 629 and the population of the county was 3,138 citizens and 2,063 slaves. The first Sheriff was elected on March 14, 1840, and won by six votes. Since that time, 32 men and two women have served as Sheriff. Originally, the terms were one year (1840 - 1846) and then two years (1847 - 1956). As of 1957, the Travis County Sheriff serves four-year terms. The Sheriff was responsible for all law enforcement in the county until the city of Austin created its own police department in 1851.

In 1847, Travis County Commissioners authorized the construction of a county jail. The jail was built under contract with local Mormons for a cost of $1,800. It was a small double-log building constructed on the Old Courthouse block, located on the 4th block west of Congress Ave., between Guadalupe St. and San Antonio St., West 3rd and 4th streets.

The first jail was destroyed by fire in 1855 and a second courthouse and jail facility was built in 1856 at the same location. The following is a description of the jail taken from county records of the time: "The courthouse and jail are to be of brick, 50’ x 70’ wide and 20‘ high. The jail is to have two walls, the outer of brick and the inner of dungeon stones, and four feet thick, 16’ x 16’. Mr. Jones is to receive $16,000 for the completion of said building. He is an energetic man and proposes to finish the structure in time for the fall court. The jail was often referred to as ‘The Black Hole Calcutta.’ It was not uncommon to have as many as 34 prisoners in the jail at one time.” This courthouse and jail facility was razed in 1906.

Travis County obtained the property for the next location through a 99-year lease with the State of Texas. Located at 11th St. and Congress Ave., the property belonged to the Texas Game Fish and Oyster Commission. The courthouse was moved to 11th St. and Congress Ave., with the jail being located at 11th and Brazos St. The jail was 50’ x 60’, built-in one large room enclosed with 2’ walls made of solid hard stone. The jailer’s residence was connected to the jail by means of a long corridor. The 24 cells were two stories in height, and each cell was 8’ x 10.’ By a novel patent lever arrangement, all of the cell doors could be closed and shut by the jailer without coming into contact with the prisoners. The jail, jailer’s residence, and courthouse cost $200,000 and was financed by a local property tax increase and a state-approved bond election.

In 1931, the State of Texas gave Travis County land in exchange for breaking its 99-year lease for the courthouse and jail facilities. As a result, Travis County built what still functions as our county courthouse today. At a cost of $1 million, the courthouse was considered a “state of the art” facility at the time of construction. The new courthouse building also housed the jail on the 6th and 7th floors, with capacity for 100 inmates. In 1950, the courthouse was expanded at a cost of $225,000, and the jail capacity was increased to 250 inmates. A lawsuit filed in 1972, Musgrove vs. Frank, stated that a jail above a county courthouse was unconstitutional. This lawsuit eventually resulted in the closure of the courthouse jail on July 3, 1990.

In 1978, a jail bond issue was passed, and plans began for a new jail which was scheduled to open between 1981 and 1982 in the Criminal Justice Complex. However, a series of design and operational problems ensued that resulted in litigation between Travis County and the architects and contractors. The county won its lawsuit and the jail finally opened in July 1986 with a capacity of 267 inmates. The original estimate to construct the jail was $13 million, but due to the delays, the final cost was $20 million. Because of overcrowding, a minimum-security jail facility was built in Del Valle, Texas, with an original capacity of 96 inmates at a cost of $1.4 million. Now known as the Travis County Correctional Complex, the facility has grown to more than 26 buildings which sit on 130 acres. There are 8 security buildings that house up to 2,300 inmates, Building 12 holds 1,200 of that total.

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