Court Rules that Dungeons and Dragons Threatens Prison Security

Okay, this is about the stupidest thing I’ve heard in a couple of months. A DM is somehow the equivalent of a gang leader? This is insane.

If you’re an orc or a wizard, you’d better keep your nose clean.

A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit weighed in Wednesday on a matter of grievous import to the nation’s prisons: Dungeons & Dragons. And the Court’s ruling was bad news for naughty nerds nationwide, concluding that the innocent-seeming board game was inviting trouble.

The case brought before the Appeals Court argued that D&D inhibited prison security, because “cooperative games can mimic the organization of gangs and lead to the actual development thereof.” And therefore Kevin T. Singer, a long-time dungeon-explorer sentenced to life in prison in 2002 for bludgeoning and stabbing his sister’s boyfriend, was denied access to his magical staffs and pieces of gold.

According to the published ruling, Captain Bruce Muraski, who serves as disruptive group coordinator for the Waupun Correctional Institute in Wisconsin, elaborated that “during D&D games, one player is denoted the ‘Dungeon Master.’ The Dungeon Master is tasked with giving directions to other players, which Muraski testified mimics the organization of a gang.”

In other words, the case didn’t hang on whether the dice were loaded or the game’s books were cooked or seditious. It argued that limiting the use of board games would deter gang activity. The argument had more nuances than a 12-sided die; for all the legal details, check the Geeks Are Sexy blog.

It’s a blow to role-players everywhere — criminal role-players that is. Law-abiding citizens are safe. So heed this warning and rob no more, or you’ll find you’ve slain your last halfling.

Go to the Geeks Are Sexy blog entry for the whole skinny on this. But this is just such an ignorant ruling as to boggle the mind.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

19 thoughts on “Court Rules that Dungeons and Dragons Threatens Prison Security

  1. Until the powers that be think gathering for a game in your home or local coffee shop amounts to creating a cell for TERRORISM!

    Humanity is doomed.

    Please let the next species to evolve a civilization on Earth learn from our mistakes.

  2. I don't agree with it on an emotional level, but I understand the logic behind the ruling. I mean, groups of quiet people gathering around tables in prisons typically are trouble signs, anyway.

    Not that I agree with it, but I understand where the Wardens are coming from on this. It's just sad that it removes a coping outlet.

  3. @ kensan
    Exactly, they are removing the inmates coping mechanism that can help with rehabilitation. Those bonds and the act of playing hero in an immersive experience is more likely to help them understand the wrong of what they have done and desire to be receptive to rehabilitation.
    Don't get me wrong I want criminals punished, but punishment alone does not lead to rehabilitation. They build up resentment and are more likely to continue a life of crime upon release. You have to have some kind of positive reinforcement that "rewards" their good behavior or else they won't learn proper behavior, or they will have their negative behavior reinforced.

  4. It seems to me that I saw an article about this a year ago. And it was in Wisconsin of all places.

    Over all it's a dumb ruling, but then again prisoners should be in a rock quarry breaking rocks rather than watching t.v. and playing role playing games.

  5. This ruling is ridiculous, but in a system that values punishment over rehabilitation, unsurprising.(Recently, our local detention center took away all books, regardless of content, attempted to ban cards and RPGs[which the prisoners had made toilet paper dice for!], and tried to restrict intra-block FOOD trading! Awesome!) Ostensibly because some prisoners were smuggling in cigarettes, the LEGAL drug.(Friends on the inside said, this was, of couse, true, but the cigarettes had been 'officially' banned in a fit of pique over guard inmate relations.[Prisoners were insufficiently obsequious, apparently.])

    'prisoners should be in a rock quarry breaking rocks rather than watching t.v. and playing role playing games':
    1)Health/safety issues, especially for ill people.
    2)This doesn't exactly prepare people for re-entry into society.(If applicable to persons situation.)
    4)There are innocent people in prison, should they be subjected to this as well?
    5)Prison labor is utilized as a low cost(or no cost) method for filling vacant jobs, which could go to the unemployed.(There could be other ways for those in prison to earn money without conflicting, of course.)

    playing role playing games:
    This could have beneficial effects, as noted.
    @Barking Alien:
    'Please let the next species to evolve a civilization on Earth learn from our mistakes.':
    May the Felinoids be better than us! 🙂

  6. "Which group of people are most opposed to escapism? Jailers."
    — C.S.Lewis

    No surprise there. This isn't the first time such a ruling has been made.

    At risk of being a heretic I have to admit I can entirely see the prison's point. Prison is supposed to be horrible and arbitrarily restrictive: that's the whole point of them!

    Prisons are also intended to be what are called "total environments"*. Any and all unregulated activity (especially involving things like dice (*cough* contraband *cough*), complex maps, and a private jargon) are:

    1) potential risks to control,
    and, more fundamentally,
    2) a flaw in the total control of the system as intended.

    { * Think boarding schools, the armed forces, religious cults, North Korea, etc. – hermetic subcultures with arbitrary rules which must be obeyed, not because they make sense, but because they don't make sense. Total environments are places where obedience and orthodoxy trumps independent, rational though. Things like "So-and-so place is out of bounds…" are not rational rules; they're simply tests of ability to obey irrational rules. }

    Looked at from that perspective the court decision isn't gamer-friendly, but it is totally rational in the light of what a prison is.

  7. "totally rational in the light of what prison is':
    defined as irrational above. Not to mention 'horrible' and 'arbitrarily restrictive'(The Point, apparently. Wow…). One wonders of the 'point' of such a system, and whether or not it could be changed into something more workable. For a brief time in the 70's, there seemingly was hope, but 'progress' is not necessarily a straight line. It makes me miss the days of Sci-fi, like early Star Trek(Or Heinlein, sometimes) that held out hope for people, without being socially restrictive, employing genetic determinism, or advocating the mechanization of humanity.

  8. @ JB: the defendant was the prison/warden, and they won, both times. The prisoner was represented on appeal by a lawyer from a large law firm (probably for free). He represented himself in the district court, which is why his evidence was a bunch of affidavits. The trial court refused to consider the rulebooks because they "were not served on the opposing party" (no comment on the cost of an additional set of rulebooks).

    The case is really more about deference to the prison warden in his role, and sadly "stupid and short-sighted" is not the same as "rational relationship to prison security".

    I have a mind to send them a nice boardgame to foster good feelings and team spirit… like Diplomacy.

  9. I'm just thankful that loon in Arizona, who tried to assassinate Congresswoman Giffords, wasn't involved in any RPGs.

    Then this happens?!

    Oh my stars and garters. . .

  10. "For a brief time in the 70's, there seemingly was hope, but 'progress' is not necessarily a straight line."

    The 70s saw an explosion in rape, murder, robbery, and crime in general, peaking in 1980. I'm much happier with the way things are now, thanks, without all the touchy feely BS about how the criminal's sad childhood must have led him to murdering the store owner and then his parole after serving 3 years of his sentence…..the more recidivists locked up forever, the better life for all of us.

  11. @Badmike:
    Crime comes in waves(including in the late 80's!), depending on many factors, including to many , crucially the economy, which tanked in the 70's. I was referring to prison programs which lowered recidivism rates for quite a few crimes, which were abandoned later in the decade.

    touchy feely BS:
    um, seriously? Circumstances can factor in, but no-one is fooled by pseudo-freudian excuses!

    'with the way things are now':
    With innocent people locked up, and non-violent offenders given ridiculous sentences? Especially for joint smoking? We'll never agree on this one. Hope this doesn't happen to you and yours.

    'the more recidivists locked up forever, the better life for all of us.':
    Was anyone objecting to say, the criminally insane, being sequestered away from society?

    I'm guessing you didn't care for the idea of general population inmates playing D&D, huh?

  12. Would someone tell me when D&D became the stuff of nerds and geeks? It must have been an 80s trend. I never played that much (I tried a couple times, but lost interest). I enjoy reading about it now for nostalgia sake. But the ones who first introduced the game to me, c. 1981, were seven: one was not an athlete, four had played or were playing football, one a quarterback and one captain of the varsity football team; three (including one of the football players) were on the track team with me, and one ran cross country. One was also captain of the reserve basketball team. Three of them obviously played more than one sport. Three were on student council. Two were salutatorians, one was valedictorian. One was class president. So….when did this thing become the stuff of outcasts? I'm not saying it didn't. It obviously did. But I get the feeling that it was not a 'natural' reaction, but rather an imposed one that must have happened between that time and around 1985.

  13. Joseph,

    Heh. But that is what we called the Sophomore teams. He was varsity letterman in a year. And also captain. But at the time I first saw him talking about playing the game, he was in 10th grade.

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