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General interface tips
- Left click and hold the clock to move it around, if it gets in the way. Or use the (transparent) digital clock available in the game options.
- Left click and hold a Report folder on its edges to move it around or Left click and hold bottom right to re-size.
- On a laptop, pressing both mouse buttons at the same time often simulates a middle-click. If this doesn't work there is mouse emulating software available, such as mousemu, or you can simply press the R key.
General prison design tips
- Download this prison cell calculator (or use the web version) to assist you in accurately planning the size for the foundation.
- A Holding Cell is a cheap way to house prisoners early on, but is only a temporary measure until you can construct individual cells for each prisoner. Make sure to place multiple beds in your Holding Cell, as your prisoners still need a place to sleep.
- A foundation that is 12 by 25 can fit 16 prisoner cells (of the 2x3 standard size, the Lawyer may reduce that further). This means that if there is a riot, then it will only happen in one location and not the entire prison, it is recommended to have at least one prison guard patrolling each cell block at all times.
- Sinks are used for cleaning trays in the kitchen. They don't go in the shower room, or in cells!
- Remember that Prisoners must travel to their destinations, which takes time. Efficient building placement can allow your prisoners to take shorter trips to do what they need to, such as placing Showers in or near prison blocks, Canteens in a central zone, and so on.
- Prisoners' Family need can be met by putting Phone Booths in the Yard, Common Room or the Canteen. They can be a useful stopgap measure in case you cannot afford to build a Visitation building when starting up a prison.
- Cookers generate food waste when preparing food, and extra meals are automatically dumped at the end of eating periods. Placing garbage bins near your Cookers and Serving Tables can greatly reduce the amount of work needed to clean up.
- To prevent flooding, install drains in the Shower. They block water rather than reducing it, so place them in front of or underneath doors, not under shower heads.
- Foundations can be expanded, so building a small foundation that meets your immediate needs and increasing its size afterward can reduce the cost of building a prison. Building a large foundation and then filling it in afterward is inefficient and costly.
- Solitary cells have no requirements on size, so pack them in tight! There is also no requirement to use a Solitary Door, so if money is short then using regular Jail Doors can work on a temporary basis.
- It is recommended to build a Storage area near the middle of your prison and/or adjacent to the kitchen. Do not confuse the Storage area with the Deliveries area.
- Concrete tiles greatly increase the movement speed of any entities pathing over them. As such, laying tile paths throughout your prison and beneath the Delivery, Garbage and Export zones can facilitate the movement of prisoners and staff alike, allowing them to reach their destinations faster.
- Prisoners make no attempt to break/climb walls, only doors. No amount of walls will hold them in if you don't have secure doors.
- Beware, prisoners can steal Contraband from rooms that contain objects that they can use for their own nefarious purposes. Make sure to use the Deployment menu to keep them out of places where they don't need to be.
- When setting up work areas for your prisoners, you should consider placing Metal Detectors at the entrances to such places, and deploying K-9 units to patrol the entrances. This can prevent prisoners from stealing drugs and metal tools. Similarly, placing contraband countermeasures at your prison entrance and delivery zone can stop them from becoming a problem before they even enter your prison.
- Fences are extremely cheap to build, so they are excellent for creating a perimeter around your prison when starting up. Building closed areas may get workmen trapped, so remember to add an access point to the fence with staff only access rights.
- Prisoners can obtain contraband by having it thrown over your prison walls. Contraband can be launched up to 10 squares, and prisoners will request contraband drops through the phone, however they will also avoid picking up drops if guards are nearby. In order to counter this threat, you can either use Phone Taps or Informants to detect contraband requests, deploy prison guards around your perimeter to discourage drops, or build a 10-cell "bubble zone" around your prison perimeter.
- When setting a regime, a Shower period can serve as an alarm clock for your prisoners, as it will wake them from sleep and allow them to alleviate their Hygiene need. If the showers are close to the prison blocks, one hour will often suffice.
- Build a second inner layer with a staff door when making changes to the external fence, or there will be plenty of attempted escapes, and abandoned work which only exacerbates the problem. A good way to get around this is to build at night, when the prisoners are confined to their cells.
- Only guards are capable of opening large and small jail doors. Think of this when planning your prison because if you have every door be a jail door then your guards will spend more time running around and trying to open doors for prisoners than doing their normal job. If that is so use door servos to automate door opening and closing. Also if you find guards take too long to open the doors you can right click it and the door will automatically open, this can be tedious at times but if you need, say a doctor, to get somewhere right now then it proves useful. Remote or automated doors using servos can avoid the need for guards to get there every time.
- Fights are mainly caused by tempers running high, and you can avoid fights by keeping your prisoners relatively happy. Hire a Psychologist, open up Reports, and look at the Needs tab. It'll give you a good idea of what they're unhappy about.
- The more guards the better, while they may be expensive to keep there is not a thing in the world that's more effective at subduing a prisoner than having your guards show him the business end of a baton.
- Lack of food causes more anger and fights than anything else. Make sure that your kitchens and kitchen staff are of a manageable size in order to provide enough meals for everybody.
- A prisoner's traits are one of the major indicators that he may cause trouble in the future, such as if they are Volatile or even Extremely Volatile, an Instigator, or are in need of Protective Custody (see below). You can see a prisoner's traits through their Characteristics or via Intelligence, and sort them out accordingly. If such traits are hidden, you can reveal them by connecting a Phone Tap to Phone Booths, or by questioning Confidential Informants.
- One of the major causes for fights is prisoners identifying someone who has wronged them in some way previously, particularly Snitches, Ex-Law Enforcement, Ex-Prison Guards, and so on. You can reduce the number of incidents in your prison greatly by placing such vulnerable prisoners in the Protective Custody category and separating them from the rest of your populace via Deployment zones (and a separate Regime if needed, though this also increases the complexity of guard deployment). Give them a separate prison block, Canteen, Shower, Common Room and Yard, so that they have no opportunities to be surrounded by crowds of fellow inmates who have their death in mind.
- In general, try to keep tab of which of your prisoners are repeat offenders, and shift them into higher security categories if needed. If a prisoner repeatedly steals narcotics from the Infirmary during Drug Treatment programs, placing additional suppression on them may discourage them from doing so again in the future.
- If you can't afford individual cells for everyone, manually cycle prisoners between holding pens and cells. A portion of the prisoners aren't affected by 'PRIVACY' and may therefore be left in the holding cell without becoming tempered (this saves money and space as not every prisoner needs a cell). Also build enough beds in the holding cell.
- Building a Chapel early on and scheduling Spiritual Guidance programs during work periods can help to create a calming environment within your prison. While the best way to stop fights is by meeting the prisoners' needs and preventing them from happening in the first place, having mediators amongst your prisoners can allow them to de-escalate fights before they begin if your guards are stretched thin.
- Keep an eye on what time it is, and place your guards around the prison accordingly. If you know they're on the way to lunch, put some extra guards in the Canteen preemptively with the Deployment mode. Same for showers, yard time, and work spaces. Often the larger fights occur because no guards were there to sort out the initial instigators.
- Some prisoners are Stoical, and as such placing them in Solitary will not suppress them. In cases where such prisoners are dangers to your prison, it is advised to place them in the Maximum Security (or even SuperMax) category, assign a prison block to them via Deployment, and station an Armed Guard to patrol their cell at night. This can keep a constant aura of suppression on them that reduces the risk of causing problems.
- Researching the Tazer Rollout program can go a long way towards reducing strife in your prison. The program must be researched, guards trained in tazer use and the hardware purchased, making this a time-consuming and expensive investment. However, it allows guards to instantly subdue most prisoners with a single shock. This can greatly reduce the amount of injuries suffered from fights, and instantly de-escalates most situations by neutralizing the instigator.
- If a single inmate stands still for a while, they're often up to something dodgy. If you click on them, you'll often see "Acting suspiciously". Get a guard to search them.
- Don't place all cells in one area, alternatively make multiple cell blocks with 16-24 prisoners in each one. This is because when one prisoner rebels/starts a fight, nearby prisoners join in. Holding them in different cell blocks will limit the spread and make it easier to suppress.
- In general, keeping a secure perimeter will prevent prisoners from simply running off into freedom. Make sure that there is a solid wall around your prison, and there are at least two Large Jail Doors between any prisoner zone and the prison entrance. Use Deployment zones to keep prisoners away from the borders and sensitive areas of your prison.
- A happy prisoner is less likely to attempt his own personal Shawshank Redemption. Keep an eye on needs and try to address the concerns of repeat offenders as a matter of priority. Try to meet their Freedom and Safety needs adequately.
- Research Intelligence as early as possible. This will unlock the Intelligence menu and allow you to see if there are any tools loose within your population. You can also use Confidential Informants to identify the locations of any stolen tools.
- Make sure to place Metal Detectors at key areas throughout your prison to prevent prisoners from pilfering metal tools and digging escape tunnels. In particular, Kitchens and Workshops hold many tools that prisoners can steal and bring back to their cells, and most tools also enter your prison via the Delivery zone, so those are the highest priority. It is also advised to place Metal Detectors at the entrances to prison blocks to prevent the tools from reaching the cells. While Metal Detectors are expensive and consume a lot of electricity, preventative measures can save you money in the long run.
- One of the biggest escape dangers to your prison is the Wooden Pickaxe, which can be manufactured from the Workshop and does not set off Metal Detectors nor the Guard Dogs. Be aware that even if you have strong contraband detection measures implemented, you will still need to utilize your Confidential Informants and regular searching of cells if you detect tools within your populace, especially during sleeping hours.
- Tunnels always originate from the Toilet of a cell, so searching the Toilet will reveal any existing escape tunnels. Also, keep in mind that prisoners will work together to dig tunnels, so the danger of tunnels can increase severalfold if your prison blocks are close together.
- Large pipes provide a natural "highway" for escapees. Try to keep large pipes away from your prison population (especially the toilets of the cells) and use small pipes as feeders to objects requiring water in cells.
- Watch the Sleep needs of your prisoners at night, as tunnel digging only happens at night. If it is not completely full and your intelligence indicates that there are tools among your prisoners, it means that one of your prisoners may be digging a tunnel.
- K-9 units will dig at the ground very frequently if there is a tunnel beneath them, and will automatically dig up any prisoners who are actively digging tunnels directly underneath them. Once you have enough funds, deploying dog patrols around the immediate perimeter of your cell blocks at night can allow you to immediately detect any tunnels.
- Walls will greatly impede the digging progress of a prisoner, and the stronger the wall the better. If tunnels are a major danger, placing a Perimeter Wall around your prison blocks can greatly hamper any attempts at escaping to freedom.
- Using the Shakedown feature is a sure fire way to anger your prison population, but by searching individual cells at different times, you can expose tunnels and contraband on the quiet. This is especially true if you have perhaps 3-4 spare guards who can search four cells at a time.
- If your aim is simply to find stashed contraband and expose tunnels, use the "Search Prison Block" feature while the prisoners are away (such as at meal time or in the yard). This will allow your guards to search cell blocks and rooms in your prison en masse, without subjecting the prisoners themselves to searches.
Money is one of the more difficult things to grasp in Prison Architect. Starting your own prison for the very first time is daunting, so here are a few tips on how to keep to the budget.
- The first thing you need to do is accept a grant. Grants are found in the Reports window found at bottom right of screen. The Basic Detention Centre is the best starters grant. It gives you $40,000 and a list of things you must do. It establishes your finance and gives you a good idea of what you need to start your prison.
- Don't build anything larger than you need. An ideal starting size for a prison is 16 prisoners, and from that amount you can grow steadily.
- Keep in mind when building that some rooms don't need to be any larger than said. E.g. an Office never has to be bigger than 4x4, after that it's a waste of money and space.
- When employing guards, it's ideal to have one guard to every four prisoners, but one guard to every three prisoners is good as well.
- Don't hire more Workmen than you need! They may be handy, but if you have a low income a lot of your money is going to go towards paying them!
- Don't be stingy with hiring Workmen either! There comes a point where it takes so long for them to complete the project it's cheaper to just hire a few extra temporarily in order to get the job done. Not to mention the longer it takes the higher the chance a prisoner will steal one of the Workers tools and the next time you see it will be in the eye of an inmate. [verification needed]
- Remember that you can combine walls on your foundations, this will allow for much more efficient management of space.
- Although the Health and Well Being grant specifies that you must have two doctors, once complete it is unlikely that you'll need two in the early stages of your prison. Ditch one to save the $200 a day fee and use it on a couple of guards.
- You're likely to need only 2-3 cleaners, especially in the early stages of prison development (16-22 population). You can also direct them manually to keep prisoner areas clean at the expense of offices, as staff have no needs.
- Two or three cooks can easily cater for a modest prison.