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Quickstart Guide

Hello, and welcome to Prison Architect! This quick start is meant to guide you through the creation of your very first prison, step by step. Before starting this guide, it is highly recommended that you complete the campaigns first. Especially the introduction (Death Row) will familiarize you with how to interact with the prison and the various interface elements. Thus, this guide assumes some basic knowledge of the core game.

This guide is not the best or only way to create a prison! The beauty of the game is that any configuration or order is feasible. This guide will only teach you how to build a rudimentary prison with only the very basics. If you desire more information on a topic, or strategies for more advanced prisons, please follow the links to the appropriate item.

Let's Lock 'Em Up

Creating a Prison

To create a new sandbox prison, bring up the main menu by pressing [ESC], then select the Create New Prison option to display the following dialog.

This dialog contains an array of options which can be used to customize a new prison. Details about these options can be obtained by hovering the mouse cursor over them or in the article Sandbox Mode. The default options offer a balanced difficulty level.


Mutators provide even more options to customize the gameplay but most of them is very unbalanced. Turning them on may ruin everything and be impossible to revert the save back to playable (enjoyable, balanced) state. Think twice before enabling these listed below and three times before enabling these in bold:

  • Almost all from Extra Challenge section
  • Spectral Staff
  • Dynamic Reputations
  • Nature Conservation Zone
  • Burn The Dead
  • No Contraband Limits
  • Extra reputations

The Map

As the map loads, press Space to pause the game and have a look around. Unlike in the campaigns, you start with nothing but:

Everything else is up to you. This may seem daunting, especially since you need to get a basic facility up and running for your first prisoners. The first prisoners will arrive in 24 hours, if you don't change it in the Intake report.

Money Management

With $30,000 to start out with, you have adequate funding to build only the most basic prison. Luckily, the government has offered five starting grants to give you some funds to work with. To claim a grant, click on the reports icon in the lower right hand corner of the screen, and select the "Grants" tab on the left. Simply click on grants to accept them.

Grants offer cash upon the completion of certain objectives, in the form of a Completion Bonus, while most also offer an Advance payment, received after accepting the grant. There's no penalty for not fulfilling all of the items on the checklist, however you may only accept two grants at a time (extended to three through the accountant).

You can raise your balance to around $55,000 immediately, more than enough to build a robust prison, if you accept Basic Detention Centre ($20,000 Advance Payment) and Administration Centre ($5,000 Advance Payment). The tasks required to complete these grants will usually be the first two tasks you complete.

Be careful, though: while $55,000 may seem like a lot, it will run out quickly if you don't make smart spending decisions. If an item is not necessary to the functioning of your prison, don't buy it! The same applies to researching and unlocking new things too early. Check Staff and Bureaucracy section below, for more information.

Note also that with your initial eight workmen (for $100 per day each) and no other expenses, your daily cashflow will be positive in the beginning due to the $2,000 federal fund that you are receiving every day. Due to the corporate taxes of 30%, you will only receive $840 of the $1,200 that you would expect.


The save file and two places with Balance value

A section you probably didn't expect to see in here, but oh well - cheating not always must be a bad thing.

As a new player you may find these $30 000 to be not enough and run into serious money problems very fast. Just to speed things up a little and give yourself an easier start, you may want to cheat and add yourself a little bit more money by save editing.

To do so, save the game and open the save folder (ESC > Options > Open Save Folder). Look for the .prison file with the name of your prison. Backup it and open with a text editor (notepad, notepad++ for example). Next, hit CTRL+F and search for Balance. It's in two places. Replace the value next to it in both places with how much money you want to have and save the file. Start the game or just re-load the save to see the changes.


TODO (Planning outer walls, blocking throw-ins, using normal fence instead of perimeter wall.)

Before planning anything else, it's a good idea to plan a buffer zone which is very important and should be created as soon as possible.

Buffer zone is an area around the whole prison that separates it from the outside area and cannot be accessed by prisoners.

Proper buffer zone is:

  • set entirely to staff only via deployment
  • 11 tiles wide (including walls)
  • patrolled by dog patrols and/or guarded by snipers
  • double walled (one fence or wall is 2 tiles wide)
  • has no exit to outside areas

With these requirements above completed, prisoners will have a hard time trying to escape as well as they won't be able to receive thrown-in contraband, which is very important.

Buffer zone can be upgraded later on by:

  • replacing one or both fence/wall lines with perimeter walls
  • installing barbed wire on the fence/wall


  • Building a buffer zone takes a lot of time, especially if there are trees to be removed. You can make one tile wide paved path to the edges of the map for workers to speed up the building process though.
  • Buffer zone require a lot of space
  • Upgrading it is very expensive


Paved area in the center on the first picture is where the prisoners can be allowed. This is also where you can build all the necessary buildings and rooms, including offices, cell blocks, yard etc.
You can see that the space is now very limited by buffer zone so you might want to start a prison on larger map (medium or large) where you'll have much more space. There's also a few things you can do to save some space, such as constructing a building in the buffer zone. It'll also block throw-in contraband as it cannot be thrown inside, through the roof. Check the other screenshots!

Pick the style

One of the best things about Prison Architect is that you can play it and design everything as you want. There is however a few general designs a lot of people follow.



Having a well designed entrance is very important as it may help improve the traffic flow - not only for the vehicles by also deliveries and staff members who move them in.

Staff (cooks, guards, workmen and truck drivers) should have a simple way of getting in and out of the prison, but prisoners should not. Good entrance shouldn't have too many doors that have to be opened manually by guards but also it cannot be too weak, made with staff doors for example.

A good solution to balance between the good traffic flow and security can be:

  • deployment and creation of multiple staff-only zones prisoners would have to go through
  • installation of jail door or heavy door (solitary or remote) and door servos connected to more than one door control.
  • a security room next to the entrance and main door and/or sniper tower

The Main Road gate area

The gate entrance to your prison should be fully enclosed. It can be done by walling off a part of the road area and installing two road gates (one on top and one somewhere lower). You can also add a door servos to the main gates for better traffic flow. Check images below for some good examples.

The zone created in this way should be big enough to fit a delivery, garbage and exports rooms in there.

The next thing to think about is allowing prisoners to enter the road area. Here are the pros and cons of it:


  • Prisoners can help with moving garbage, food ingredients, export materials and other objects.
  • It's easier for prisoners to move between prison sections created on both sides of the road (if you decide to expand to the right).


  • Reduces the level of security by giving prisoners an easier way to escape (one or two gates to break through)
  • Reduces it even more if Escape Plans option is enabled (prisoners can steal the delivery trucks)
  • Require more staff to be involved in securing the area
  • More traffic

Allowing prisoners to enter that area so they can help with moving things (such as garbage, food ingredients, exported stuff) can speed things up a little bit but very often it's just not worth it as it reduces the level of security and gives prisoners a perfect way to escape, especially if Escape Plans option is enabled.

It’s better then to hire one or two more staff members instead and set the road area to staff-only so only staff members can enter it.

Building on two sides of the road

Since The Sneezer version, you can construct footbridges over the road for prisoners (and staff) so they can get over the road without entering it. This will help with security of the prison as prisoners won't be able to easily hijack the supply trucks (if Escape Plans option is enabled) and escape via main gate.

Specific rooms placement

Some rooms are more important than the other ones and that where and how they are located can be crucial. It's good to plan them before constructing.

Below are some examples:

Administration block

Administration block can have:

  • all the offices,
  • staff room,
  • staff canteen (if staff needs are enabled),
  • reception,
  • parole,
  • visitation,
  • and even a holding cell.

All these rooms can but don't have to be located in one bigger building.


Other rooms

Armoury - for obvious reasons, it should not be placed in the areas that can be easily accessed by prisoners. Since it's not very often visited, you can build it somewhere on the edge of the map. Kitchen - it requires to be supplied very often thus should be placed as close to the delivery zone as possible. Make it so the cooks don't have to travel across the whole prison to bring food ingredients. Their time is very valuable. Kennel - does not have to be anywhere in the middle or by the entrance but should not be too far (unless you have more than one) as k-9 units will go there to rest.

There are other rooms that have to be supplied (e.g. mail room, shop, workshop) but delays

About staff only zone with offices, armory, kennel, staff room (as well as staff canteen - mention Staff Needs option) and offices that have to be accessible by prisoners. + Info about contraband.

Holding Cell!

More about traffic flow

about prisoners moving from one place to another


Placement of offices, mixing sec levels, patrols and checkpoints. Sniper towers and armed guards.


Staff and Bureaucracy

There are various staff members you can hire to carry out certain tasks, such as administration, security, maintenance, financial management, and health. From the start, only a few staff members can be hired—workmen, guards, cooks, and the all-important warden. Once he is on your staff, you are able to start researching other staff members through the bureaucracy system.


Other Staff Members


Chow Time