Prisons can restrict the rights of inmates to nerd out, a federal appeals court has found.
In an opinion issued on Monday , a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected the claims in a lawsuit challenging a ban on the game Dungeons & Dragons by the Waupun Correctional Institution in Wisconsin.
The suit was brought by a prisoner, Kevin T. Singer, who argued that his First Amendment and 14th Amendment rights were violated by the prison’s decision to ban the game and confiscate his books and other materials, including a 96-page handwritten manuscript he had created for the game.
Mr. Singer, “a D&D enthusiast since childhood,” according to the court’s opinion, was sentenced to life in prison in 2002 for bludgeoning and stabbing his sister’s boyfriend to death.
Wait a second. A "D&D enthusiast" actually interacted with real people and committed a real crime?
Check out the Wisconsin Department of Correction's rationale behind the D&D prison ban: playing could heighten "gang activity" and "fantasies about escape":
Prison officials said they had banned the game at the recommendation of the prison’s specialist on gangs, who said it could lead to gang behavior and fantasies about escape.
Dungeons & Dragons could “foster an inmate’s obsession with escaping from the real-life correctional environment, fostering hostility, violence and escape behavior,” prison officials said in court. That could make it more difficult to rehabilitate prisoners and could endanger public safety, they said.
The court, which is based in Chicago, acknowledged that there was no evidence of marauding gangs spurred to their acts of destruction by swinging imaginary mauls, but it ruled nonetheless that the prison’s decision was “rationally related” to legitimate goals of prison administration.
“We are pleased with the ruling,” said John Dipko, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, who added that the prison rules “enable us to continue our mission of keeping our state safe.”
[the sound of crickets chirping]
In the pantheon of truly insane correctional policies passed over the years by various states (and litigated all the way to a higher court), this may take the proverbial Black Pudding. To call this "rationally related" to anything resembling institutional security is beyond belief (although one wonders if inmate Singer ever referred to the Man as "Dungeon Master").
The article also mentions the discussion going on over at Volokh (which, since we're nerding out, I swear is Klingon for something). Scrolling through the comments, my favorite so far explains the REAL rationale for the D&D ban:
I mean, c'mon! Now it makes sense!
Of course the prison’s rule is justified. Magic-user prisoners might launch a Meteor Swarm at their jailers; inmates might slip a Phylacter of Love into a guard’s drink (or even worse, a Throat Leach.)The only downside is that prisoners will no longer have the know-how to combat wayward Gelatinous Cubes or Beholders, which have a tendency to hang out in dank stone corridors. The Dungeon Master is more analogous to God than a gang leader.
[shakes head] I think the guy quoted at the end of the article sums it up for me:
“If more inmates were über-nerdy D&D players, life would be good.”We'd certainly have less (if not zero) crime.