Video games are a part of prisoner rehabilitation

The issue of video games in prisons has resurfaced; this time the publicity surrounds a private prison in Florida purchasing two PlayStation 2 systems (with inmate commissary, not with tax dollars) as part of an attempt to relax prisoners. This comes after recent debates over the right of prisoners to play video games, with Missouri first removing violent games after a blunder that resulted in prisoners shooting virtual cops in GTA, and then banning the use of games outright after a new Governor took office. Currently the overwhelming majority of prisons in the U.S.A. do not allow prisoners access to games.

Hernando County Jail Assistant Warden Russell Washburn 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."

We've previously reported on the positive aspects of allowing prisoners to play video games as part of the rehabilitation process: Oregon's game-friendly jails (1, 2) show how video games can help calm prisoners and reduce violent behavior inside prisons. Shouldn't that be all we need to know? If video games make the jobs of prison staff easier and potentially reduces the rate of prison suicides, then arguments of principle like Maj. Robert Lucas', an administrator with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, statement that jail is "not fun and games" should be irrelevant.

I have an inkling that the real reason the "video games in prison" issue has been susceptible to such unwarranted attention (and sensational reporting) is due to inherent controversies with video games themselves. Why is the overall topic of entertainment in prisons being ignored? No one seems to have a problem with prisoners watching TV or DVDs, so it's reasonable to suggest that this particular problem has nothing to do with prisoner rehabilitation. Instead, this entire "controversy" shows all the hallmarks of being a thinly veiled extension of the ongoing resistance to video game media by out of touch (and/or vote grabbing) political figures.

[Thanks, Babylonian]

This article was originally published on Joystiq.