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Three States Support Use of Video Games

December 14, 2004
By: Katheryn Mohr
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Although Missouri recently banned violent video games from its prisons, a couple of inmates say there's a benefit to the prisons in having video games.

"By allowing video games, the prison is basically paying for cheap and easy babysitting," said Michael Lung, a prisoner at the Jefferson City Correctional Center.

Lung, who was convicted of 1st degree assault and robbery, said the video games serve as pacifiers for most of the inmates.

Missouri is one of only three states in the country to allow the use of any video games in state correctional facilities, according to a survey by the American Correctional Association.

Although banning some games, other video games remain in Missouri's prison system.

John Fougere, a Missouri Corrections Department spokesman, said video games have been used as a form of recreation in prisons across the state of Missouri for almost ten 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."

Maine and West Virginia are the other two states that allow the use of video games, according to a survey by the American Correctional Association.

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

In all three states, inmates are allowed to play sports and science fiction games.

According to a spokeswoman for the Illinois Correctional Center, Illinois inmates are permitted to have televisions in their cells, but video games would be considered a luxury that inmates should not be allowed to enjoy.

"As far as the state of Illinois is concerned, video games would be considered contraband," the spokeswoman, Dede Short said.

Short said anything that is forbidden in the state's prisons is considered contraband.

Short said Illinois offers a number of structured activities that it feels are more appropriate for its inmates such as basketball, softball and volleyball and there is no reason to add video games to this list.

In early December, Missouri made national news when 30 video games were removed from the Jefferson City Correctional Center because of violent content.

PlayStation 2 games such as "Hitman: Contracts" and " Mortal Kombat" were just two of the casualties that resulted from this upheaval.

Anthony Dixon, another prisoner from JCC, said removing violent video games does nothing to inhibit violence in prisoners.

"That is kinda like shutting the barn door after the horses have gotten out," Dixon 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 whenever it is being occupied by his housing unit.

Dixon said the inmates experimented with all of the games, including the violent ones, but that experimentation never filtered 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."

Sterling Ivey, spokesman for the Florida Corrections Department, said what happened in Missouri explains why Florida refuses to allow video games in its correctional facilities.

"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.

Ivey said Florida does not allow video games because they are viewed as a threat to the security of both the inmates and the staff.

Dixon said he disagrees violent video 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, the Missouri Corrections Department spokesman, said that while violent videos will never be allowed in Missouri prisons, video games with Mature or E ratings will continue to serve as a useful recreational tool.

"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."