SG Flashback: The Dummies Guide to Running Your Own Prison

By Craig Robinson 21 Jun 2017 0

Prison Architect is a game based on managing and sustaining an American-style prison. The aim of the game is to run your facility to the point where you're achieving good prison security, safety and re-offence ratings . A deceptively simple aim , but one that is always an interesting challenge to reach. No matter what the security level of prisoners that you have in your prison, PA will always find a way for these ne'er-do-wells to wreak havoc across your work of art. Turning that dinner fork into a mining tool, or that work-time saw into a deadly weapon. Prison Architect left Steam's Early Access program on October 6th, 2015 after spending a year there and is one of the success stories of the platform. Recently, it made the move to mobile with the help of Paradox Interactive and seems to be doing well on that platform too. As we look back on Introversion's work, This piece will look at the unique ways Prison Architect still gives strategy gamers a challenge, whilst offering general tips for those who have yet to play this excellent management/strategy game.

When you start a save, the game has settings that enable what sort of challenges you want to experience, andon the opening screen you have a few tick boxes to select what impact various elements will have if your game. This can range from local geography, such as forests or lakes, which restrict building areas and can either make a starting zone harder, or can allow you to turn a profit. Meanwhile, you can enable Gang Affiliations to add extra layers within the prisoner mechanics. Gangs normally effect higher security level prisoners, which adds an extra layer of difficulty.. Gangs tend to control yards/common rooms as turf, as well as making fights, deaths, and coordinated escape attempts more likely. Be careful with planning around these groupings! Making gangs live with rival gangs – either in the same cell or corridor, or policing their turf can cause a very bad mood penalty, which will more than likely end fights. The final challenge block is staff needs. This feature includes the need for staff to eat and drink, room temperature, and toilet/rest breaks. Failure to give staff the room to do these activities will result in unhappy and exhausted staff, which will only affect the overall security of the prison. All these selected features are toggle-able – personally, I play with gangs and trees turned on.

Secure Foundations

Prison construction can be tricky when it comes to financing the early development of your prison. When the game starts, you get eight builders to construct your prison to your specifications. Personally, I recommend going into planning mode and drawing out your prison's basic needs: A holding cell, around 8 cells with either a bunk bed or basic bed, a kitchen, dining area, shower room, yard, at least 2 offices and a utility room. Alternatively, there is a quick build button where you can get a few of these rooms built without any real planning. I would also recommend going into the prison intake settings and turning it off till the prison is functional. In terms of materials, build thick concrete walls on the outside walls of your prison, and if you are feeling extra cautious, make the cell walls concrete as well. Be aware of the pricing on these walls, as it can quickly damage your budget early on!


When you have the essentials down, it is time to let the prisoners in and enable a grant for some extra cash to expand your prison. Normally the best method to expand is by taking the Detention Center and Administration Centre Grants. If you followed the guide to the general prison opening, you will be well on your way to completing these grants. All that really needs to happen is to initiate research from your warden’s office, then follow the research needed to finish.

At this early stage, your biggest challenge will be to blindly keep the peace. Chances are the prisoners will enter angry, and they will have little entertainment. Janitors and Laundry rooms will not be that accessible, and they will have needs for education, spirituality, and socialising . The major challenge in the first week is to keep everything under control. Normally, the bad moods will erupt either in canteen time or in the shower.. Best tactic is to keep several prison guards around these areas when the schedule approaches eating and shower times.

There are few ways of telling how well you're doing at this stage, and there are not a lot of options available for staving off disasters. If you have money to spare, you can always consider emergency actions like paramedics or riot police, but these can be expensive if you need the money elsewhere. They can be decisive in dealing with early-game crises, however. These requests heal your guards and prisoners, and can maintain the peace while your actual prison staff are out of action. It is simply a matter of assessing how dangerous your prisoners are, and how badly do you need the extra hands on site.

Danger level

Usual Suspects

While you're managing these early phases, your prison should be expanding and taking in more prisoners. Specifically, it should expand to accommodate the advanced needs of your staff and inmates. This should include extra offices for your new psychologists, security chiefs, accountants, etc. Meanwhile, the prison should also grow to include a hospital, staff room, laundry, and a common room. If you are doing exceptionally well, a visitation room is always nice to deal with the extra social/family needs of your prisoners. As for research, it is important to prioritise what staff members you need. Each staff member has its own unique skills to bring into your prison. The accountant manages expenditure and income, the chief manages security personnel better, whilst psychologists help to understand everyone's needs better. The challenge here is to decide which order you get these staff members. Of course, all are 100% necessary for long-term success, but by monitoring your prisoners, you should be able to glean enough information as to what needs prioritising. Look at the bubbles above prisoners; the speech bubbles will display what things they want the most, whether that is cleanliness, social time, alone time, family, or narcotics etc. Follow these interactions and you can prioritise what buildings and staff need including into your prison first.

At this point it's worth stressing how important the Chief is to a prison. The c#Chief, and his following research technologies of patrol, armed guards, and kennels, are extremely important for patrolling prisoner areas. It is important to have the right amount of guards in the right sectors of your facility. If you have a highly congested area, it is better to have a good amount of guards and dogs around to make sure nothing too bad happens. Although, too many guards in one area can affect the mood of the inmates, so adjust accordingly.

In the screenshot below, I have a very low threat prison so I only have two guards patrolling cell areas. My prison has metal detectors and dogs around congested zones so they can enforce safety by detecting contraband. Lots of searches happen every day in my prison so there is no real threat of danger from illegal possession within my walls.

Intelligence and Risk

Knowledge is Power

Now for the importance of intelligence. Intelligence is what keeps you informed of any shenanigans happening in the prison. It can tell you where contraband is likely to enter and get stolen from. If gangs are active, it will show you where their turf is so you can watch for mischief in those areas. This button is also important for understanding deployment strategy. For me, the Kitchens on the main corridor, Cleaning Cupboards, and the Workshop are high-security areas for contraband. This is where the dogs and metal detectors come in. By placing patrolling guards, detectors, and dogs, there is high chance someone will be caught smuggling.

It should be mentioned though that, no matter how tight your security is, Contraband will always find its way into the cells. The best bet is to issue a shakedown around once a week. That way you can catch anything that got past your net. Warning! This causes lots of tension though, which will rapidly increase the longer they are behind bars. If your prison is too big or has high security prisoners, it is better to manually select guards to search specific areas. Otherwise, there will be a good chance of violence occurring .

Pay attention to the work areas: The Workshop, Laundry, Kitchens, and Cleaning areas are places where prisoners can go to work. They are a good source of weaponry, chemicals, tools, and other contraband. Anyone lucky enough to sneak one of these objects out can distribute the item through the game's supply and demand system. These tools will aid anyone keen enough to try their hand at assaults and/or escape attempts. Therefore, you need to balance how many people work in an area, and what security measures you may need for prisoners who take work detail. This information is all gathered within the intelligence screen.


When you have a balanced the needs of staff & prisoners, the aim of the game is to get a finance and threat level to a positive balance. Despite a positive balance, the healty bank balance and a low threat level, overextension of prisons could spell disaster. If you don't carefully expand the infrastructure in line with the facility's growth, entire wings of your prison could be exploited by prisoners, and your prison grading could come crashing down (located in the top left after 10 prisoners get released.) Therefore, you always need to check how secure you are when expanding an active prison.

Prison Architect's success can be pinned on how it draws you into the day-to-day needs of your Prison. It forces you to think and adapt to the constantly changing needs of staff, the prisoners themselves and making sure you're protecting your bottom line. Your prison's grade is one of the few metric of success in the game (other than making sure everything doesn't get set on fire) and so while you have a clear goal to strive for, it's one that encompasses eternally shifting variables. Nearly two years after release, it's still going strong and remains a defining moment in strategy/management games. We hope you found the above tips useful.

This article is part of our SG-1 Volunteer Initiative and was kindly donated to us by the author. For more information, please see this post.



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