How happy can you make a single inmate in Prison Architect?


In Prison Architect, I'm always anxious when I'm done building my prison and the first inmates arrive. Have I forgotten something? Do I have enough of everything? Is this going to be a complete disaster? I'm feeling that doubly so today: I've spent ten game-days and hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a very special prison. A luxury prison. It will house a single inmate, and he's due to arrive in a couple minutes.

The idea here isn't simply to build a prison for one inmate and see what happens. As I explained in my review, the first time I had prisoners escape my prison it genuinely hurt my feelings. I'd been trying very hard to meet the needs of my residents, to keep them calm and satisfied, and when five of them tunneled out I felt betrayed and embarrassed that all my humane efforts had been for naught. With my new prison, I want to see if it's possible to make an inmate so damn happy and comfortable that he never tries to escape, never hits a guard, never busts up the place, and never breaks any rules.


It's got more TVs and sofas than my actual home.

So, I've built the most luxurious prison cell I could manage. It's spacious, with large windows, wood and tile floors, a private bathroom and shower, a pool table, sofas, a telephone, several television sets and a radio. There's just a regular door on the cell and there will be no lockdown time on the schedule—my prisoner will be able to enter and leave his cell whenever he wants.

There's also a roomy kitchen a short walk away with an eager staff of cooks on hand. There's an expansive, grass-covered exercise yard that overlooks a lake. There's a workshop, library, classrooms, common rooms, and a chapel. I've got an army of janitors and groundskeepers to keep the place tidy, and while there are a number of guards in my employ, none are assigned to rooms my inmate will spend time in, so he'll never feel like he's being oppressed or monitored. Sure, there's a fence around the jail—it's still a jail, after all—but it's hard to imagine it feeling less like a prison.


It takes real dedication to keister something so big and sharp.

My sole inmate arrives, a 33-year-old convict named Sean Matile. He's serving a nine year sentence, perhaps ironically, for false imprisonment. He's also married and a father of four. He's guided into the reception area and searched for what I hope will be the only time during his stay here. My guard finds that Matile has attempted to smuggle a pair of gardening shears into jail, which seems an odd and incredibly uncomfortable choice.

The discovery of contraband means he won't be taken to his cushy cell but will instead spend a little time in solitary. Luckily, I've planned for this eventuality, and have a pleasant little box ready for him: bookshelves, sofa, TV, toilet and shower, even a phone. Unfortunately Matile is shackled so he can't enjoy the amenities, but hopefully he realizes this is more of a hotel than a prison.


Bookshelves put the 'lit' into solitary.

Soon he's in his proper cell, where he slowly mopes around his new surroundings. After a look around, he drifts out to the yard for a bit, then moves to the canteen for a meal (high quality, of course). He heads back to his cell where he spends the entire night slowly pacing around instead of sleeping. I figure that's normal: who can sleep their first night in prison, especially having recently had a pair of hedge trimmers forcibly removed from his butt?

In the morning he showers, puts on a clean uniform, uses the payphone to talk to his family, and begins what will be his routine for the next several days: eating meals, watching TV in his cell, talking on the phone, and occasionally visiting the yard to stare at the lake. Soon he begins taking a workshop safety class, led by my construction foreman. He eventually passes the class—I'm quite proud—and from then on he spends several hours each day making licence plates and cutting logs. Matile has one other hobby, a mildly troubling one, which I'll get to in a minute.


Here's hoping he won't try to smuggle that table saw in his butt.

There's a downside to a prison with only one inmate: it prevents me from reaching a few grant milestones, which ultimately limit Matile's options for rehabilitation. For example, since he's shown an aptitude for shop work, I'd like him to partake in a Carpentry Apprenticeship Program. The prerequisite, however, is the grant for the Prison Manufacturing Facility, which has its own prerequisite, the Prison Acclimatization and Engagement program. To complete this program I need to assign three inmates to work in the laundry, the kitchen, and the cleaning cupboard. I can't do that simply because I don't have enough inmates.

I consider constructing an entirely separate prison on the other side of the road, going as far as building a massive foundation, but then the reality sets in. That's a lot of extra work. New rooms and buildings, utilities, guard patrols, schedules and classes and staff and everything else that comes with running a real prison. It seems exhausting and pointless, especially since I've already got facilities to spare. Much as I don't want to mess up Matile's life by introducing new prisoners, I start planning a small cell block just outside Matile's hotel, capable of holding a couple dozen prisoners. Hopefully nobody will stab him to death.

While that construction is underway, the unfortunate time comes where I have to perform a search on Matile. See, he's been occasionally making trips up to the northern fence, where he mills around in the trees for a bit. These trips take place in the middle of the night. I know this is more than just a leisurely stroll.


Just a midnight stroll near the fence. Nothing to be suspicious about.

I search his cell first (while he's at breakfast so he's not disturbed), and I also search the workshop while he's sleeping, finding nothing. Finally, I pat him down, and my guard finds some contraband: Matile has a cellphone. I'm relieved—for a guy who arrived with garden shears up his butt, I expected much worse—but I can't help but be a little disappointed. First of all, if it were drugs or booze, I might get a chance to use all those therapy rooms I built and use those psychologists I hired, who have spent weeks just hanging around in the offices I built for them. Alas.

Mainly I'm just annoyed because why would he need a cellphone at all? There are two phones in his cell—cell phones, I guess you'd call them—and several in the yard. Does he just want to play Flappy Bird or use Snapchat? Is Sprint's new friends and family plan that irresistible? Does he think I've tapped the payphones and I'm listening in on his calls?


Yes, that's a tiny morgue with one slab. I planned for everything.

I have, of course, tapped the payphones and have been listening in on his calls. I have an entire dedicated security room with guards assigned around the clock to monitor his conversations, which is how I confirmed my suspicions that he's been arranging for someone to visit the prison and chuck things over the fence for him. I know I could put a stop to this by building a second fence around the perimeter, but the idea isn't to prevent him from breaking the rules, the idea is to make him so damn content that he would never want to break the rules. Apparently, as swank as my prison is, it's just not enough to keep him completely happy.

As infractions go, it's not a major one. With no metal detectors or supervision, with no one restricting his movements or needing to open doors for him, Matile could have been smuggling kitchen utensils and workshop tools all the live long day, but has chosen not to. I guess that's a plus, and when his family arrives for a visit I don't think he'll have much to complain about.


Don't worry, kids, Daddy's cell is probably better than your actual house.

I put the new cellblock online and receive a bunch of new inmates, which is strange for what has been feeling like a luxury hotel built on a college campus. Naturally, the whole place becomes more like a prison immediately. I begin finding drugs and booze in cells and thrown over the fence, there are brawls in the showers and regular tazings (at least my team of doctors finally have something to do). Luckily, Matile barely mixes with the new inmates. He's got a short stroll to the canteen and is done eating by the time the crowd arrives, and then he either goes back to his cell or to the workshop. Nobody messes with him, possibly because he's simply not around them enough.

In the end, Matile does escape my luxury prison, but in the legit way. He's paroled. On the one hand, it's nice to see him free. On the other, I'm left with a worrying thought. Will he have trouble adjusting to life on the outside, not for the usual reasons but simply because there aren't enough sofas and TVs and good, hot meals? I made his prison stay so damn comfortable, filled with freedom and luxury, it might be in his best interests to come for another visit.

Be good, Sean.


Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.