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Prison staff uses video games to baby-sit inmates

Missouri prisoners are barred from playing video games with violent content.
Thursday, December 16, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:39 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Although the Missouri Department of Corrections decided earlier this month to ban violent video games from its prisons, Missouri remains one of only three states that allows any such games at all.

A survey by the American Correctional Association lists Missouri, Maine and West Virginia as the only states that allow prisoners to play video games. All three permit inmates to play sports and science-fiction games.

John Fougere, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections, said the games have been allowed for almost 10 years.

“Video games are just another way for us to keep the inmates occupied when they are not doing their full-time activities,” Fougere said. “We let them play these games so they are not spending their time assaulting our staff.”

Michael Lung, a prisoner serving time at the Jefferson City Correctional for assault and robbery, said video games serve as pacifiers for many inmates.

“By allowing video games, the prison is basically paying for cheap and easy baby-sitting,” he said.

In Maine, prisoners have been allowed to use video games for more than a decade.

Dede Short, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Correctional Center, said prisoners there are allowed to have televisions in their cells, but video games are considered a luxury inmates should not enjoy.

“As far as the state of Illinois is concerned, video games would be considered contraband,” she said, adding that the prison system offers a number of structured activities it feels are more appropriate for its inmates, such as basketball, softball and volleyball.

Missouri made national news this month when it banned 35 of the more than 80 video games from the Jefferson City Correctional Center because of violent content. PlayStation 2 games such as “Hitman: Contracts” and “Mortal Kombat” were among the casualties.

Anthony Dixon, another inmate at the Jefferson City Correctional Center, said removing violent video games does nothing to inhibit violence in prisoners. “That is kind of like shutting the barn door after the horses have gotten out,” he said.

Dixon, who was convicted of robbery and rape in 1993, was recently hired by the prison’s recreation unit to monitor the video room when it is occupied by his housing unit. Dixon said that inmates before the ban experimented with all sorts of video games but the violent content of some games didn’t carry over into real life.

“The guys in here know the difference between reality and fantasy, and if they didn’t before, they realized it when they hit the front doors of this prison,” Dixon said.

Sterling Ivey, spokesman for the Florida corrections system, said that state prohibits all video games in prisons because they’re viewed as a threat to the security of both the inmates and the staff.

“There is no way that prisons can monitor every individual scene in every video to make sure that there is no violence involved in the construction of these games,” Ivey said.

Dixon, however, doesn’t believe violent games cause criminals to become more violent.

“Playing video games is no different than watching movies or listening to music on the radio,” Dixon said. “It is just entertainment.”

Fougere, of the Missouri Department of Corrections, said that although violent videos will never be allowed in Missouri prisons, video games rated “T” for “teen” or “E” for “everyone,” will continue to be useful recreational tools.

“It is a good thing when inmates are not attacking our staff, and we will utilize anything that will keep our offenders occupied and our staff safe,” Fougere said. “We think video games work in this respect, and we will continue to use them as part of our recreation department.”


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