Prisons lose video games

Blunt bans games in favor of more rehabilitation time.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:15 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — It’s game over for Missouri inmates.

Gov. Matt Blunt passed down an executive order Monday pulling the plug on video games in all state prisons.

“It’s prison. You’re there because you did something wrong against society,” Blunt said. “Video games are not punitive or correctional.”

The order comes one month after an investigation by The Kansas City Star found inmates playing violent video games at the new Jefferson City Correctional Center, which prompted the prison’s superintendent to remove 35 games.

Blunt’s order goes even further. It restricts prisoners from playing any video games — not just those with violent content. He said inmates’ time could be better spent developing job skills and correcting their behavior.

Twelve of Missouri’s 21 correctional facilities had allowed video games.

In the past, corrections officials have publicly supported video games in prisons. But the Missouri Corrections Officers Association, a union that represents many correction officers, welcomed the ban.

“Some were basically cop-killing games, and we feel that those kind of games are inappropriate because correctional officers consider themselves the police inside the facility,” said Gary Gross, executive director of the association.

John Fougere, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections, told the Missourian in December that video games were an effective means of controlling inmates and helped reduce confrontations. On Monday, both Fougere and an official at the Jefferson City Correctional Facility referred inquiries to Blunt’s office.

Gross hopes state prisons will begin to use more traditional methods for controlling inmates and preparing them for release.

“They don’t need video games,” he said. “They need some other option for keeping inmates busy, whether it’s work or other activities more beneficial to their rehabilitation.”

Blunt, citing a study by the American Correctional Association, said the ban puts Missouri in line with 47 other states. The Associated Press, however, reported Monday that only 44 states responded to that group’s study. That, the AP said, suggests other states might allow video games.

West Virginia, which indicated in the study that it permits video games, is reviewing that policy due in part to press reports of violent video games in the Jefferson City facility.

A spokesman for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety said inmates were permitted to play video games for recreation.

“Our corrections officials have told us that the games keep our inmates from idle time and we are currently evaluating to see how effective this is,” spokesman Randy Coleman said.

Blunt’s ban wasn’t the only thing regarding Missouri inmates that was happening Monday at the Capitol.

A Senate committee held hearings on two bills sponsored by Sen. John Cauthorn, R-Mexico. One seeks to charge sales tax on items sold in prison stores. The other would stiffen penalties against inmates who harass prison employees by creating a new crime called endangering a corrections employee.

“All you can do now is grin and bear it,” said William Kidwell, a locksmith from the Tipton Correctional Center who testified that he had been harassed about five times in 15 years on the job.

“I had a glass of three-day-old urine thrown up in my face,” Kidwell said. “It had been up on the window sill. It was good and ripe.”

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