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In Tropico 4 I have arrested a number of criminals and my prison is full but there are still criminals on the lose. I'm wondering how long they have to stay in prison before becoming reformed members of society and freeing a cell for other criminals?

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Quote from the Tropico 4 wiki on the "Reeducation mode" of the prison:

Reeducation: Prisoners are put through courses of re-education, raising their respect by 20% by the time they're released.

Sadly, I can't find minimum time (hard data is kind of hard to find on this game honestly). But I usually release my prisoners after about 30min of playtime, and if they misbehave again I simply put them back in jail again, waiting another 30min.

  • They never seemed to get released in my game, and I could not release them manually. Oh well, just use Labor Camps instead. :D – AyCe Sep 20 '18 at 16:41
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When you arrest a citizen/criminal, he or she is detained for 5 years, unless you release them yourself before that time. If you choose to re-educate, their respect for you will increase. As far as I know, respect only influence the probability of them voting for you during elections. I dont know whether its possible to "reform" a criminal. Im afraid, once they go criminal, the only way to get them out of your way is to imprison them, eliminate them, or deport them (off to Florida edict).

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