Follow TV Tropes


Video Game / Prison Architect

Go To

Prison Architect is a management simulator developed by Introversion Software. Inspired by the likes of Dungeon Keeper and Theme Hospital, the idea behind this game is to lay out the plans for the buildings of a profitable and sustainable prison, capable of providing a caring environment for a variable amount of prisoners (or you could just keep them locked in their cells for 23 hours a day), while retaining a stable income from both government grants and manufacturing objects such as license plates. There are also deep investigations on the morality of the different situations you find yourself in, from having to administer the death penalty to a penitent man, to having to shakedown your compound after drugs are found on site, to putting down a prison riot to save your CEO, who it turns out was taking bribes to keep people in prison. Don't worry, they're criminals! They're the bad guys! They deserve filthy cells and long periods of solitary confinement... right?


The game was pre-released as an alpha on Steam in September 2012. The developers encouraged community involvement and released update videos (almost) every month to showcase various new features and improvements. The game was officially released on PC on 6 October 2015. It was then ported to PS4 on June 28th, 2016, Xbox One on July 1st, 2016, Xbox 360 on August 2nd, 2016, iOS and Android on May 25th, 2017, and Nintendo Switch on August 20th, 2018. In early 2019, it was acquired by Paradox Interactive. It is available on Steam here.


Prison Architect provides examples of:

  • Abandoned Area: If you select "Generate Buildings", the allotment your new prison will be built on comes with a few abandoned buildings you can convert.
  • The Alcatraz: Any sufficiently secured prison can become one of these. The Island Bound update lets you build prisons on islands and gives you access to boats and helicopters to handle transport and logistics.
  • Amoral Attorney: The lawyer you can hire for your prison in Alpha 31 is specifically there to let you bypass some legal restrictions, such as enabling indefinite confinement to solitary, reduced cell size, and death row.
  • Anachronism Stew: The developers admitted that they do not have a specific time frame the game is set in, and is instead a combination of different iterations of the American prison system.
  • Artificial Brilliance: Prisoners are smart when it comes to acquiring contraband and formulating escape plans, and the player will need to be equally smart to keep them under control and inside the prison.
    • Aside from the obvious method of smuggled objects coming in via deliveries, prisoners can phone out to family who will smuggle in contraband or even call friends from outside who will throw contraband over the walls. They also swipe anything they can from rooms with potential contraband if guards aren't watching them. Letting prisoners clean your offices complex will result in piles of stolen cell phones, cigarettes and pocket watches, and unsupervised access to your workshops, cleaning cupboards, and even libraries will result in prisoners making off with improvised weapons. They'll even hide contraband in showerheads or inside library books!
    • Prisoners memorize patrol routes, and if they are up to something, will avoid those patrol routes if they can. If they can't, they'll take a route that minimizes contact as much as possible.
    • Prisoners also pay attention to your guards' behavior. Prisoners up to shady behavior will try to avoid dog and guard patrols. If you order a cell block search every day while the prisoners are eating or in the yard to avoid pissing them off, they'll notice that all the guards are away and start fighting or rioting. If you activate a Confidential Informant to get his information during times when they're all stuck in lockup, in the Yard or eating, they'll get more suspicious than if you activate him or her during free time or when they're sleeping. More to the point, every time you act on an Informant's intel while they're active, it increases the other prisoners' suspicion of him or her. If they have too much heat, they'll kill them.
    • If a prisoner looks like he or she got lost on the way to their destination or is wandering around the edge of the fence or walls during free time like they're having a pathfinding glitch, suffice it to say, it's not a glitch. They're up to something and you should search them and their cell.
    • If you put a pumping station outside your perimeter fences, or even in a room that leaves a path that can lead outside the perimeter wall, prisoners will use the water pipes as an escape route. A major way to avoid this is to build perimeter walls, which can't be tunneled under, around the edges of each cell block. You can also use smaller water pipes, though they won't carry water as far as the large piping.
    • Dogs whose handlers are killed by a prisoner will remember which prisoner did it, and will hunt them down and kill them.
    • On a staff note, Janitors and Gardeners will deliberately avoid areas with large numbers of prisoners in them, unless the prisoners are asleep or there are guards nearby, for obvious reasons.
    • Prisoners will steal contraband to pay for other contraband they can't access, or to pay off gangs who have claimed territory. Gangs themselves operate very intelligently, conserving their manpower and resources and making plays for territory that they can realistically control. If one gang member stumbles into rival territory, the other gang will only have a couple members attack him and take the ensuing punishments while the rest stand back and watch. And if you have shotgun-toting guards in a room with shotguns AND free fire orders, they won't even try anything at all and just walk back out.
    • Criminally Insane prisoners will act very erratically, and will do things like run around naked or possessively hold on to random objects. They will also damage random items around the prison, randomly search each others' cells for contraband, and pile up garbage wherever they can.
  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: In the Execution Room tutorial the wife and her lover are butt naked but lack genitals. Averted in-game for female prisoners.
  • Berserk Button: Some things will really set your prisoners or staff off, so watch out for them.
    • Prisoners with the Snitch and Ex-Law Enforcement trait are viewed with deep bitterness by other inmates. If you don't want them to die, assign them to Protective Custody and place them in separate cell blocks.
    • Prisoners with the Cop Killer reputation are this for your Guards. Considering what they did, guards will take a much less tolerant approach to them.
    • A prisoner with the Volatile trait can be set off by anything.
    • Parole denial. Station a guard or two in your parole rooms, or at least leave guards stationed nearby during parole hearing times.
    • Locking up a gang leader willinfuriate all of the gang's members, and this will cause riots very quickly if the gang is big enough. And if a gang leader is killed, expect a large riot from his gang. Needless to say, don't let the gangs get too big.
    • Criminally Insane prisoners are similar to Volatile ones, except their erratic nature means that they can go off for no reason at all, especially if they don't have access to a psychiatrist to calm them.
  • Bowdlerise: The console version replace Don Palermo's line from a homophobic insult to saying "Son of a bitch" in italian.
  • Bullying a Dragon: When a Snitch or an Ex-Law Enforcement inmate happens to have Legendary traits. This won't stop his fellow inmates from trying to kill him.
  • Clipboard of Authority: Key staff members can be seen holding one of these up when unlocking something through the Bureaucracy page.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Prisoners wear different uniforms depending on which security level they are assigned to. Minimum are grey, normal are orange, and maximum security prisoners are red. Prisoners assigned to supermax are dark red/burgundy, and death row inmates are black, while ones under protective custody are yellow.
  • Construct Additional Pylons: Capacitors, if your current electricity demand outweighs your power capacity. There's a cap, and power stations won't work if two of them are on the same circuit, so you're likely to need to build more once you start constructing especially power-hungry equipment like Workshops or the Electric Chair.
  • Cop Killer: One of the reputations a prisoner can have. It makes guards have less restraint when dealing with them.
  • Creator Cameo: Chris Delay and Mark Morris both appear as prisoners in the game.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: If the National Guard is called in to deal with a riot, the rioting prisoners will in the vast majority of cases be on the receiving end of one.
  • Cutlery Escape Aid: Inmates can steal cutlery from kitchens. Knives are weapons, and spoons can be used as digging tools.
  • Death Row: The player is instantly asked to construct an execution room for a single prisoner. As the tutorial. Actual death row and an execution procedure was eventually added in Alpha 31.
  • Dirty Cop: Prisoners with the Ex-Law Enforcement reputation. Such prisoners need to be protected, since they're favoured targets for murder by other inmates.
  • Digital Piracy Is Evil: A minor crime people can be sent to your jail for is 'video game piracy' and even worse 'indie video game piracy'. And as an added kick, prisoners who are guilty of piracy automatically have the hidden "clever" trait, which means that they're adept at digging escape tunnels.
  • Downer Beginning: As above, the tutorial follows a teacher named Edward, after being convicted of double murder of his wife and the man she was cheating on him with. At the end of it, you're forced to execute him via electric chair. Despite being short, it's presented in a very believable way, and sets the tone of the game quite nicely — this is a prison you're running, after all: you don't have the option on not executing him, because you are not tasked with the decision of whether he should live or die, whether he's repentant or not. You are only carrying out his sentence.
  • An Entrepreneur Is You:
    • You are running a privately-owned for-profit prison, which means you need to balance your prisoner intake with hiring and building the staff and facilities needed to house, care for, feed, clothe and contain them.
    • The primary source of income is the prison labour system, whereby you can assign prisoners to various jobs around your facility like the prison laundry service, sorting letters and books in the mail room and the library respectively, using the contents of the cleaning cupboard to clean the interiors of your prison as proto-janitors etc. Your prisoners earn an allowance from this which they can then use to purchase items at the prison shop, which is itself manned by at least two prisoners (one to take orders at the shop front, one to sort the goods and retrieve them from the shelves) for which you receive a portion of the profits as commission, thus forming a stable loop by which your prisoners get to improve the overall prison experience for themselves and others while making you money at the same time.
    • The two biggest sources of income from the mid-game onwards are the Forestry outdoors area and the Workshop. The former because it runs on a system whereby you purchase trees as saplings for $100, then grow them to maturity and harvest them for three logs each, which you then sell for $150 total, resulting in a small but regular and risk-free source of income. The latter because it features two cost-effective manufacturing systems designed to make your prison more money. The basic system involves purchasing sheets of metal ten at a time for $100, then cutting them down into slats you can convert into license plates, which sell twenty at a time for a total of $200, an effective $100 minus the wages of the prisoners who make them. The advanced system is a carpentry programme where logs purchased or produced from trees on your property are sawed into piles of wood and converted into high-quality beds that sell for $400 each. Since the conversion rate is one log produces four planks of wood, and it takes six planks to produce one bed, ergo one tree equals two beds, this results in an effective profit of $700 minus labour costs. To balance potentially-lucrative opportunities available, you need to train your prisoners to work there with a pair of induction courses conducted by the on-site Foreman, and tools stolen from the Workshop (such as hammers) are dangerously-effective weapons.
    • If you're playing with Sacharina, the crooked Warden, you can completely remove punishments for contrabrand and make it easy to bring in, which encourages more smuggling and the stealing of tools. However each time contraband is found you then get to fine convicts and receive a cut of the sales price for each piece of contraband found.
    • With the Going Green expansion, you're able to build an entire prison farm to export products or make ingredients for the kitchens to reduce food costs.
  • Enlightened Self-Interest: Besides the Video Game Caring Potential, a firm but fair prison that keeps inmates comfortable and respects their rights as long as they respect security is also an efficient prison, capable of turning a profit. Programs to rehabilitate drug users or start alcoholic support groups result in less contraband and more stable inmates. Lowering the re-offence rate gives your prison better grades and funding. Providing them with an education and training them to work in the kitchen or the workshop gives them transferable skills that will make it easier for them to be paroled and lower their chances of re-offending, but also allows you to increase your profit margins by employing less cooks and producing trade goods that sell very profitably. The list goes on.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Well, contraband and escape tunnel-detecting, at least. Dogs are the single most efficient means of picking up on contraband that a metal detector can't find, and the only way of detecting an escape tunnel in progress without checking the cell.
  • Extreme Mêlée Revenge: This can happen to prisoners with the Cop Killer reputation, in which guards will not restrain themselves when dealing with the prisoner.
  • Fearless Fool: Prisoners with a Fearless reputation aren't intimidated by any guards with guns. This makes it a bit harder to keep them from getting themselves killed if you enable Freefire.
  • Fog of War: An optional gameplay feature. If turned on, any interior area of your prison will be blocked out of your vision unless you have a staff member or functioning CCTV cameras in there.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Up until Alpha 12, unless you install metal detectors in appropriate places, contraband was an example of this, as the least costly way to tell if a prisoner is carrying some kind of contraband is if you spot them holding it out in front of them for a very brief moment. After Alpha 12, you are instead allowed to set up dog patrols and metal detectors to passively search prisoners for most forms of contraband. You'll still want to order shakedowns and cell block searches periodically, since some contraband can slip by and other types are undetectable (i.e. wooden clubs).
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Sometimes prisoners will kick off and start fighting while completely in the buff. During a major riot it's not at all uncommon to see several naked prisoners participating. Criminally Insane prisoners may also strip naked before flipping out and attacking staff or other prisoners.
  • Gender Is No Object: Staff members can come as male or female, with no significant difference. Prisoners can be male or female as well, as determined before a new prison is created, with the only significant difference being that some female prisoners come in as mothers, and thus need to have separate cells and areas designed for them so they can raise their children separately from the rest of the population.
  • Guide Dang It!:
    • Defied in the case of the game's tutorial. When the game made it out of its Alpha stages, the campaign tutorial turned out noticeably better about this, as it added a lot more things to do to teach you how to play the game, including how to prep and assign prisoners for jobs, take care of your prisoners' needs, and what to do when things go horribly, horribly wrong.
    • The option to choose when prisoners arrive seemed like a broken option until you find out that the "Open/Closed" button on the pre-Alpha 30 Prisoners page does that when this option is enabled. Going through the game without figuring out how to manually control prisoner intake this way can result in space woes, and subsequently, financial woes.
  • Hairpin Lockpick: One of the possible items of contraband a guard can confiscate from prisoners.
  • Hard Mode Perks: The more dangerous sorts of prisoners are harder to control, but they also give you more money per head for your monthly income.
  • Hellhole Prison:
    • It's possible to run your prison as one in sandbox mode, but given that this tends to result in rioting, object destruction, and frequent deaths and injury, it's not recommended without having plenty of Sinister Surveillance equipment and a horde of guards to back it up.
    • The expanded campaign introduces one that really stands out. Prisoners have no beds, no toilets, are filthy because they have no showers or cleaning staff employed, and use their uniforms to block rat holes so said rats don't attack them in their sleep. Guards show no sympathy and are cruel and indifferent to an absurd degree, not caring about the absurd suicide rates inside the prison. Of course, it's your job to turn this around with the aid of a doctor.
  • Hypocrite: The Mayor is shown in the ending of the last chapter in the campaign debating Doctor Hurst, arguing that the latter is basically embezzeling funds to do so...although as we learned in Chapter 3, he himself was extending the stay of the prisoners just to make more money.
  • Insane Equals Violent: Zig-zagged. Criminally insane prisoners need to be regularly treated to handle their anxiety and other mental problems, and ones that are agitated can act unpredictably. They may start smashing up furniture or fighting each other... or they might show odd obsessive-compulsive actions like carrying random things they found on the ground or searching random cells for contraband.
  • Instant Expert: Prior to the release of the Alpha 18 version, a new busload of prisoners could be dropped into a workshop full of saws and heavy machinery and immediately start pressing out plates. Averted thereafter. Now prisoners must complete certain reform programs in order to work in certain areas; specific to the Workshop, they need to complete one program to work in the Workshop at the Saws and Presses, and another more advanced one to work at the Carpentry Tables.
  • An Interior Designer Is You: Exterior too. The player has many options to alter and decorate the layout of their prison, from implementing pathways that speed up people's movement outdoors to putting hedges, coat stands, portraits and other decorative items around the prison.
  • It's a Wonderful Failure:
  • I Read It for the Articles: Magazines heavily implied to be full of racy content are among several items sold at the prison Shop. Tellingly, they cater to a Prisoner's Recreation need as well as Luxuries.
  • Last-Minute Reprieve: While the literal last-minuteness of the reprieve is situational, there's a small chance that any prisoner on Death Row will be exonerated or have their sentence reduced, turning them into a regular Maximum Security prisoner.
  • Lawman Baton: The default weapon for your regular prison guards, unsurprisingly. It almost certainly will be used on prisoners, justifiably and otherwise.
  • Lock Down: Can be triggered whenever necessary. There is also the option to trigger "bangup", which has a similar, less forceful function for sending only willing prisoners back to their cells or the holding cell.
  • Luxury Prison Suite:
    • At your own discretion, you can equip any or all prison cells with various amenities such as televisions and exercise equipment, allowing them to make use of them even when locked in their cells.
    • Alpha 33 adds the option to build nice, large, well-furnished prison cells, which are given numerical grades based on how nice they are, and they are assigned as rewards for good behavior. Prisoners in these cells are less likely to go off, because they don't want to lose their nice cells. However, if the majority of your cells are good quality, the effect is diminished, because everyone has access to nice cells regardless.
  • Made of Iron: Prisoners with the "Extremely Tough" trait can shrug off multiple tazer hits, will only be knocked out by being shot multiple times with shotguns, and in the case of uncontrolled riots, they can run through hails of gunfire from the National Guard to shank soldiers with knives.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: The CEO, who guides you through the first two tutorials, doesn't survive the prison riot tutorial.
  • Morality Kitchen Sink: The game shows the moral complexity of the American prison system quite well. There are some who want to make life better for the prisoners under their care, such as the cooks teaching them how to cook meals in the kitchen, the Foreman teaching them the trades of metalworking and carpentry, and the Pyschologist holding courses to help alcholic and drug-addicted prisoners kick the habit. But the campaign shows that they are also those who exploit the for-profit nature of the prison-industial complex to keep prisoners locked up under harsh conditions for longer because it makes them richer to do so, and the Chiefs of Security often take a No Sympathy angle to prisoners that can be shocking. Prisoners, meanwhile, wind up in your prison for all sorts of crimes, and there are absolutely hardened and horrible criminals who deserve to be locked up for years, like rapists, Serial Killers and especially the prison gangsters who can and will wreck the heads of players, but there are also those who wind up there for minor crimes, or for mistakes that ended up costing them badly. Some of them are past redemption, but others can receive the education and training necessary to turn their lives around in prison and leave as better people.
  • Naked People Are Funny: Criminally Insane inmates may strip down and run around naked if they freak out.
  • New Game+: There is an option to "sell" your prison and start a new game with significantly more funds based on your previous prison's value. It is still possible to continue playing your old prison after selling it, too, even selling it multiple times.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Though there are probably more examples, at the very least Billy Mays is a possible prisoner.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Prisoners with the Cop Killer reputation will experience these from your guards. If the National Guard has to be called in to quell an uncontrolled riot, they will exercise very little restraint, even going so far as to mow down previously-armed prisoners while they're surrendering.
  • Nobody Poops: Played straight for your staff and visitors, averted for your Prisoners. Later averted for Staff if 'Staff Needs' is turned on.
  • Non-Lethal K.O.: Tazers for Armed Guards (and potentially normal Guards) can knock a prisoner out in one hit, though they take an hour to recharge. Orderlies can use sedative drugs to restrain Criminally Insane inmates.
  • Not the Intended Use: As demonstrated by youtuber The Spiffing Brit, it's possible to turn large profits by never accepting prisoners, hiring a bunch of workers, and running your "prison" as an illegal tree farm. The "Going Green" expansion even turns this into a legit business by letting you run a farm.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The given in-universe reason for the existence of the game's Tech Tree.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: Your prisoners will only dig escape tunnels during the night if the regime is set to "Sleep", so theoretically you could set the regime to "Lockdown" instead to prevent that from happening. Setting the regime to "Lockdown", however, makes your prisoners unhappy even during night, so it is not recommended in most situations.
  • One-Hit Kill: Prisoners with the Lethal reputation have a chance to kill anyone they punch in one hit.
  • Orcus on His Throne: Gang Leaders rarely, if ever, get their hands dirty and prefer to let their gang members and lieutenants do their dirty work for them instead. Gang leaders are also capable of exerting their influence from anywhere in the prison, by bribing the staff to carry messages for them.
  • Paint the Town Red: Entire rooms can be turned red if a serious fight breaks out in an enclosed space, and not just because severely-damaged objects turn red.
  • Pariah Prisoner: Prisoners with the Snitch and Ex-Law Enforcement Reputations. Averted for rapists, though, who are treated like any other prisoner, in contrast to Real Life.
  • Police Brutality: Your prison guards can wind up doing this if they go too far. In particular, they have no time for convicted Cop Killers, so make sure they behave...
  • Private Profit Prison: The entire point. You manage a prison, trying to make it as profitable as possible.
  • Prisoner's Work: The Prison Labour system, which is designed to reduce costs and give prisoners something to do. Nothing as crude as breaking rocks in the chain gang, but...
    • Laundry: Prisoners need fresh clothes every now and then. To fulfil this need, you assign prisoners to the Laundry. They collect dirty prison uniforms in laundry baskets, place them in washing machines, flatten their creases out on ironing boards and deliver them fresh to inmates' cells in the baskets. Janitors can help with this.
    • Cleaning Cupboard: Using bleach and mops, prisoners move around the prison cleaning the filth from indoor areas. Again, janitors are there to help with this during the night time.
    • Kitchen: Prisoners assigned to work in a kitchen assist cooks with producing meals, moving ingredients from the fridge to the cookers and carrying cooked ingredients to the canteen. Inmates need to pass a short reform program to be elegible for this work.
    • Mailroom: Prisoners collect sacks of unsorted mail, sort them and put them in satchels to transport around the prison. Reading mail caters to a variety of prisoner needs like Family, Comfort and Literature.
    • Library: Working at the Library is divided into two jobs — one being to gather unsorted books at a sorting desk and work to sort them, the other to place those books on the library shelves. These books can be borrowed by literate prisoners to cater to their Literature need. Inmates need to pass the Foundation Education Course reform program to work in the Library.
    • Shop: A prison Shop can only be operated by at least two prisoners, with one operating the shop front to take orders and ring up customers while one to however many others takes the goods out of crates and onto the shop shelves. This caters to the Luxuries need, among others, and a shop's presence will make prisoners more likely to sign up for work or reform programs.
    • Workshop: This building has three-five jobs that can be performed there. Prisoners who pass the basic Workshop Safety Induction reform program use the Workshop Saw to cut sheets of metal into slats or wooden logs into planks and Workshop Presses to turn the slats of metal into license plates. Those who pass the Carpentry Apprenticeship Program use the wooden planks to make high-quality beds. Both the license plates and beds are exported to make money.
    • Forestry: While the room has existed for a while, the option to have prisoners work there was added in the Going Green DLC. This allows prisoners to do some of the work of Gardeners, collecting tree saplings from the Deliveries room and planting them in designated areas of the prison. The trees will eventually grow and be dismantles by Workmen, the resulting logs sold as exports or given to the Workshop for further manufacturing.
    • Vegetable Allotment/Fruit Orchard/Farming Field: Added in the Going Green DLC. Prisoners plant, grow and harvest crops in these growing areas. The fruit and veg they harvest can be sold for profit or used in the prison's Kitchens to make healthier, more fulfilling meals. Prisoners need to pass a reform program to work in these areas and are taught, supervised and assisted by Farmer workers.
  • Prison Rape: Averted, though showers, nudity, and attacks against snitches are present.
  • Prison Riot: One can happen if the player isn't careful. It ain't pretty.
  • Prisons Are Gymnasiums: Prisoners' needs include exercise — this can be fulfilled with a yard to walk or jog around in, Tyre apparati to climb, punching bags or weightlifting equipment. The Gymnasium room is an indoor version they'll go to if no Yards are available.
  • Private Profit Prison: You own and operate a privately-run prison.
  • Punishment Box: Solitary Confinement cells. They're a fertile ground for recruiting Confidential Informants, who will take deals in exchange for release from the box, and a stay in solitary leaves most prisoners Suppressed and much less likely to act up for a while.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: And not just Jesus. The Spirituality need manifests for prisoners with an attachment to their religion of choice, but does not make them any less dangerous. The player can cater to this need by placing Prayer Mats in cells or around the prison or by building an on-site non-denominational Chapel with pews, prayer mats and an altar for Prisoners to pray in. You can also run special Spiritual Guidance programs with externally-hired Spiritual Leaders in the Chapel, granting Prisoners a special status effect called Calming that makes them less likely to cause trouble.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Prisoners that see an Armed Guard with his shotgun out and free fire orders tend to take a 180 turn and head the other way.
  • Shipped in Shackles: All prisoners arriving at your new prison are this until escorted to either their cell or the holding cell. Alpha 31 adds a Reception room where newly-arrived prisoners are strip-searched by guards for contraband and then given new uniforms.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: Armed Guards wield these, and they are frighteningly effective up close. Needless to say, keep them away from Skilled Fighter inmates who could grab them.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shown Their Work: The developers extensively studied how prison gangs operate and accurately replicated many of the aspects of said gangs, such as the way they take territory, how their leaders are chosen and operate, and how they act and react to one another.
  • Sinister Shiv: Tools that can be wielded as or fashioned into improvised weapons are a common form of contraband.
  • Slave to PR: Mayor Calvin Keller, who is such a slave to PR that the moment the media starts harrassing him about something prison-related, he'll slam you with demands like "Remove all exercise equipment from the yards in 24 hours or be fined massively until you do" just so he doesn't have to look soft on crime. Of course, nobody cares about what you or the prisoners think about that, so have fun with prisoners getting so angry they start a riot.
  • Spiritual Successor: Word of God frequently cites Dungeon Keeper, but the resemblance to Theme Hospital is more obvious. Either way, the Bullfrog influence is pretty apparent.
    • Fans of both games have referred to it as "Dwarf Fortress with graphics, IN PRISON!" (With varying degrees of cynicism depending on which side of the fence you stand.)
    • Other fans will just cut to the chase and call it Sim Prison.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • No, don't think you can just constantly order cell block searches at the same time every day while the prisoners are eating or in the yard to avoid pissing them off. The prisoners will notice all the guards disappearing to do the searches and riots have a much higher chance of kicking off.
    • Guard dogs have periodic false positives, resulting in an annoyed prisoner being unnecessarily searched. Metal detectors, meanwhile, will have much more false positives, resulting in lots of unnecessary searches.
    • If you enact the execution of a Death Row inmate without letting them run a series of appeals and the inmate turns out to be innocent of their crimes or would have been granted clemency, you get a massive fine and all remaining Death Row prisoners are removed from your custody. Do it again and you're fired.
    • Ordering a search while a Confidential Informant is active will cause said informant's suspicion meter to fill up faster. Your prisoners may have witnessed said informant being dragged away in shackles by your guards but a search happening afterwards is enough to garner plenty of suspicion. Keep doing this and your informant's cover will be blown, placing his life in danger.
    • Heavily suppressed prisoners will have a hard time passing reform programs. After all, it's really hard to concentrate when you're constantly being watched like a hawk or punished.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Snitch is a possible Reputation some prisoners have. They're favoured targets for brutality by other inmates.
  • Stop, or I Will Shoot!: Armed guards will avoid using their guns unless they feel threatened. Snipers will fire a warning shot, which tends to swiftly end most any conflict in a hurry. They both forego any restraint, though, if Freefire is active, and Snipers will also pick off escapees without wasting time on warning shots. If the National Guard are called in, however, they will not show any restraint at all.
  • Stun Guns: Tazers are a unlockable weapon usable against violent inmates. Once researched they are given to Armed Guards as standard, while Prison Guards can qualify to use them if they pass a 1 hour class conducted by the Chief of Security in a Classroom.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Edward, the main character of the tutorial.
    • No Sympathy: One of the guards sees him as a two-bit thug though.
  • Tailor-Made Prison: The new legendary prisoners introduced in Alpha 25 can warrant to build one of these.
  • Tech Tree: The Bureaucracy page. It's more realistic in that you're not creating new technology; you're actually acquiring permits and navigating all the red tape necessary for the upgrades.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: All types of Guards are this by default, but there are exceptions.note 
  • Time Lapse: One can record the prison as its constructed, and play it all back at a faster rate.
  • Tunnel King: Every prisoner as of Alpha 13 has the ability to attempt escape by way of digging a tunnel out of their cells using tools stolen from places such as the canteen. Prisoners will join tunnels together and tunnel under each other's toilets. One of the worst situations is when a tunnel starts in a dormitory, because the majority of the dormitory will take the opportunity to crawl out. Never place your dormitories anywhere near the fence, even packed with minimum-security prisoners.
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: One of the failure conditions introduced in Alpha 20 has the prison manager (i.e. The player) arrested and kept in his own prison until a certain period of time has passed, or if he somehow manages to outsmart his own security system and escape.
    • Now a game mode you can choose in the extras menu.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: A man killed his wife and her lover. That one act sets off a chain of events that took down an entire mob family. The fallout from that sets off a riot that killed the prison company's CEO and installed the player as his successor.
  • Video Game Caring Potential: You could always run a prison that cared for inmates' needs, and it was recommended that you play in such a way to prevent riots and fights. Now with Alpha 18 released, you can set up programs to rehabilitate prisoners and help them reintegrate into society. You never see the end result of such programs on the outside, but the thought is nice.
    • Now you sort of do with the parole addition. Successfully rehabilitated prisoners don't re-offend (the chance is checked the moment they're paroled), while re-offenders actually result in fines to your prison for paroling them.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: On the other hand, you can also ignore their needs and just keep them in constant lockdown while you suppress them with armed guard patrols. You can also hand out arbitrary punishments to inmates who didn't do anything.
    • Locking someone up in Solitary until they starve to death is a recommended player strategy for dealing with Legendary prisoners. As of Alpha 30, guards bring meals to prisoners in lockdown and solitary to avoid this, but with the Lawyer's research, you can just assign the prisoner to a permanent solitary cell... and there's nothing to stop you from walling the prisoner off entirely.
    • One player developed what was best called a "prisoner meatgrinder." It consisted of a single large empty room which max-security prisoners were dumped in and left to stew until they rioted. The room was surrounded by armed guard patrols, and the moment the prisoners kicked off, free fire would be turned on and the rioters would be immediately mowed down. Clean up the bodies, and bring in the next batch....
    • Feel like the gangs are getting too powerful? Put ALL gang members in Supermax in a separate dormitory. They'll be too busy bickering with each other to set up or protect territory, since they'll be constantly in and out of Solitary, Lockdown and the Infirmary for fighting - if they don't kill each other first.
    • If a trouble-making prisoner overdoses, you can lock the door on them and they'll die within an hour or two.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment:
    • As of Alpha 30, high rates of recidivism among released prisoners will result in lowered grades and fines of the ineffective prison they were released from.
    • With Alpha 31, executing a Death Row prisoner before a certain clemency threshold has been crossed in the appeals process incurs a hefty fine and causes the state to take back any other prisoners on Death Row either in your prison or that have been slated for future reassignment. Do this three times, and you're fired.
    • Prisoners who are injured or who die will reduce the overall sense of safety in a prison, which can push things to a riot. Even minimum security prisoners will start rioting if you push them too far and your prison feels unsafe.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Gang members will walk around without any shirts on to show off their tattoos, particularly when staking claims to territory or attacking a territory you're trying to evict them from.
  • Wall of Weapons: The gun racks, introduced in Alpha 17 with the armed guards. Like just about every other piece of furniture in the game, prisoners can and very much will swipe guns if they gain access; never allow your prisoners access to the armory, no matter how obedient they seem!
  • Would Hurt a Child: In Escape Mode, if you are feeling sadistic you can go to visitor room and murder innocent visitors. And some visitors are children.
  • You Have Researched Breathing: Hiring janitorial staff for both indoor and outdoor cleaning work requires the two be unlocked separately, and only then after unlocking the option to hire a foreman. Again, justified by the Tech Tree being part of an Obstructive Bureaucracy. Regulations demand separate certifications and foremen on staff as a prerequisite for hiring janitorial staff. It can be truly infuriating to see how filthy your prison can get in the first few hours, with your prisoners endlessly annoyed by the dirt, and you can't even hire a guy to use a mop.
    • You also need to go through hiring a security chief and research just so you can start assigning guards specific stations or to patrol routes.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: