Raphael Sperry, president of Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility on “Prison Architect”

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Raphael Sperry, president of Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility on

Prison Architect, a management game like Sim City but for prisons, wastes no time diving into the horrors of its subject matter.

Prison Architect, a management game like Sim City but for prisons, wastes no time diving into the horrors of its subject matter.

Your first task as a prison architect is to execute a prisoner with an electric chair, but there’s a lot of details you have to figure out before you flip that deadly switch. You’ll need to build a separate structure, with an execution chamber and holding cell, where you can put in a window and bookshelf if you’re nice. Each room needs to be a certain size and use different types of floors. Each room also needs to be connected to the prison’s power grid, and the electric chair causes a spike in energy consumption, so you’ll need to build a few more capacitors for your generators. […]

Raphael Sperry is an architect, Soros justice fellow, and president of Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR). He’s also pushing the American Institute of Architects to prohibit the design of spaces that inherently violate human rights in their code of ethics, namely prisons.

He told me in an email that space and building costs are just as much of guiding principles in designing real prisons as they are in Prison Architect.

“If you’re pouring concrete to build a prison cell, each additional square foot of space creates more wall, ceiling, and floor area you need to pay for,” Sperry said. “Construction costs are generally looked at in per-square-foot terms, so there is a direct correlation between the size of prison cells and the budget for the prison. If cells are smaller, other things can be bigger: the warden’s office, the kitchen, the security fence.”

That last point is also reflected in Prison Architect. Just like real life, a prison gets its budget according to how many inmates it has, so while building a psychologist’s office will allow you to open programs that will improve a prisoner’s life and reduce his chances of being imprisoned again after release, that office comes at the expense of more cells, which bring in money. […]

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