Should Prisoners Be Allowed to Play Games?

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Should Prisoners Be Allowed to Play Games?

Should Prisoners Be Allowed to Play Games?

Video games in jail - it's a question that comes up with increasing frequency.

Opinions on the issue seem to fall into two camps. Some tough-talking politicians and administrators say games are a luxury that don't belong in jails. Others hold that games relax inmates, making jails safer, and help to pass the time.

In the anti-game camp, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt (R) banned all games in his state's correctional facilities last year. At the time, Gov. Blunt said, "Video games are a luxury that inmates should not be allowed to enjoy... Our penitentiaries are punitive institutions where those who have committed crimes against society are sent to pay for their actions. They are not meant to be arcades."

The games-in-prison issue has surfaced again, this time in Florida at the privately-run Hernando County Jail. In April officials at the facility introduced two PlayStation 2 systems along with seven games for use by inmates. The video game systems were in part a reaction by administrators to suicides and other issues which plagued the facility in recent months.

Only prisoners who have earned certain privileges are allowed to use the PS2's. The limited selection of games includes sports and racing titles. As in the Missouri situation, both the PS2 systems and the games were purchased with profits from the inmate commissary, not with tax dollars.

Assistant Warden Russell Washburn believes the games have had a relaxing effect on inmates.

"This is rewarding positive behavior," he told the St. Petersburg Times. "I'd rather them be thinking about race cars than how I'm mad at someone... I don't want it portrayed that all they do is sit around and play PlayStation. I would agree that's not right if that's all you do. But this is just part of the rehabilitation. You can't throw them into a place and not give them anything to do and expect no problems. ... This is not a warehouse."

Not everyone in Florida would agree. The state's Department of Corrections does not permit inmates to have video games, nor do jails in several other Florida counties polled by the Times.

"We try to make sure people know that they're (in jail) for a period of confinement and it's not fun and games," said Maj. Robert Lucas, an administrator with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

"The Florida taxpayers do not want to provide PlayStations to inmates," claimed Department of Corrections spokesperson JoEllyn Rackleff. "There are plenty of taxpayers who can't afford them."

It seems that privately-run prisons may face less political resistance to offering the video game option to prisoners. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the company that operates the Hernando County facility, also offers game systems at jails in Colorado and Kentucky.

"It improves the quality of life for the offenders, and it also is a good management tool," said CAA official Steven Owen.

At least one local criminologist supported the use of games in prison.

"I can't see anything wrong with it," said University of South Florida professor William Blount. "To me, it's creative. If they were (gaming) on a computer, that would be even better because computer skills are useful."

Liz Woolley