Dungeons & Dragons: A Threat to Prison Security

Sometime you read a story and it takes a lot of re-reading and double checking before you can bring yourself to accept it truly is legitimate. This is one of those stories.

The seventh circuit of the United States Court of Appeals has just published (The case was published back in January 2010, not 2011) a ruling on a case heard last in September 2009. Let us peruse the opening line and consider whether this may be the greatest legal ruling in history:

After concluding that the popular role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons (“D&D”) represented a threat to prison security, officials at Wisconsin’s Waupun Correctional Institution took action to eradicate D&D within the prison’s wall.

Yes, you read that right. This is a ruling on whether or not prison officials were justified in confiscating D&D material. It wasn’t a case of officials being concerned that multi-faceted dice could be fashioned into weapons (only “twenty-one books, fourteen magazines” and handwritten notes were confiscated), but an even more serious matter:

Waupun’s long-serving Disruptive Group Coordinator, Captain Bruce Muraski, received an anonymous letter from an inmate. The letter expressed concern that Singer and three other inmates were forming a D&D gang and were trying to recruit others to join by passing around their D&D publications and touting the “rush” they got from playing the game.

The prisoner concerned, Kevin Singer, complained the confiscation was a violation of first amendment rights. He then, in the words of the court, sought “a panoply of relief”, which sadly turned out not to be a D&D spell.

Singer maintains that rather than D&D playing encouraging gang activity, it actually deters prisoners from joining gangs.

After losing the case, Singer took it to appeal. There, an expert on prison gangs argued not only that having a Dungeon Master issue direction to other players “mimics the organization of a gang”, but that the game encourages players to become obsessed with mentally escaping the restrictions of prison life, which could threaten “the safety and security of the institution.”

Although Singer produced witness testimony from 11 other inmates who said they had never heard of D&D leading to gang-related activity, the judges at the appeal ruled this was irrelevant: all that mattered was that it was reasonable for the prison officials to believe it might do so in the future.

And what is the evidence for this argument? Well, in a 2009 case, a prison gang leader “established and enforced rules.” You know, just like in D&D. And hell, there’s even a risk of “D&D players looking to Dungeon Masters, rather than to the prison’s own carefully constructed hierarchy of authority, for guidance and dispute resolution.”

In any case, the judges noted, the prison wasn’t banning all books or games. After all, in a 2005 case when some games were banned, ” strategy games like Risk, Stratego, chess, and checkers remained available to prisoners.”

In conclusion, the judges pointed out that Singer had failed in his duty to prove conclusively that D&D could not lead to gang activity. (Which may be because even the most creative role-player can’t prove a future negative.)

The court therefore rejected the appeal.

(Via Above the Law)





70 Responses to Dungeons & Dragons: A Threat to Prison Security

  1. People who don't play roleplaying games will never understand them, and are to stupid figure out that the players know it is a game.

  2. You know, he should've just argued that DnD DETERS the formation of gangs, via the formation of DnD groups.

    Think about it – people join gangs in order to find a place to fit in. And what would keep them from doing that? Already being a part of a group.

    Also, "thinking of life outside prison" Is something that would also deter gang formation, because they are no longer considering gang-forming options.

    Really, this case just reeks of a lack of consideration.

    • He did say that. It says in the article, "Singer maintains that rather than D&D playing encouraging gang activity, it actually deters prisoners from joining gangs."

      That argument clearly didn't fly. I'm sure the court was able to look at all the D&D gangs roaming our inner cities for proof of its danger.

  3. You know, he should've just argued that DnD DETERS the formation of gangs, via the formation of DnD groups.

    Think about it – people join gangs in order to find a place to fit in. And what would keep them from doing that? Already being a part of a group.

    Also, "thinking of life outside prison" Is something that would also deter gang formation, because they are no longer considering gang-forming options.

    Really, this case just reeks of a lack of consideration.

  4. it's not like i need books or dice to run a game, they just make it easier. I can run a game with nothing but my voice and my mind – lets see them prison guards stop that.

  5. it's not like i need books or dice to run a game, they just make it easier. I can run a game with nothing but my voice and my mind – lets see them prison guards stop that.

  6. it's a prsion, these people are being punished. I think it makes sense that if you are in a prison you don't get to have all the stuff you had in the outside, that 's the point. they might as well wheel in a TV and surround sound system, or a bunch of computers with internet access.

    • You understand right that our judicial system is flawed and corrupt? That hundreds of thousands of INNOCENT people are in our prison systems? That the guards have a God complex and are disgusting and sick individuals correct? Get your head out of your ass Kojak.

    • Hey Kojak, they do give some prisons that privilege of TV & Internet. Some work within prison on computers as a form a cheap customer service labor for companies with a tight budget and contract out prisoner workers to answer your phone call to buy stuff online. You give them your Credit Card info…and you're none the wiser for it.

    • You go to prison *as* punishment, not for punishment. Being excluded from regular society is what it's all about.

      That said, until this happened I imagine these inmates were playing D&D more than me, and that pisses me off! ;-)

    • Kojak, your argument would be valid if, and only if, the judges and prison officials had said the game is too much fun, and needs to be banned because it is making life enjoyable for the prisoners. They did not say this. They claimed it was, is, and will encourage gang activity. That is a lie, and the state has failed in responsibility to hold fair trials.

      Where were the psychologists? There were no professionals contacted for their educated and proven analysis of the situation. The heresy of ignorant guards is not proof. Where were the game designers? They had every right to defend their product, and explain it’s uses, but they were not contacted either.

    • Kojak, your argument would be valid if, and only if, the judges and prison officials had said the game is too much fun, and needs to be banned because it is making life enjoyable for the prisoners. They did not say this. They claimed it was, is, and will encourage gang activity. That is a lie, and the state has failed in responsibility to hold fair trials.

      Where were the psychologists? There were no professionals contacted for their educated and proven analysis of the situation. The heresy of ignorant guards is not proof. Where were the game designers? They had every right to defend their product, and explain it's uses, but they were not contacted either.

      • I seriously doubt the plaintiff could afford expert testimony. Given the lack of such testimony and the apparently weak case the plaintiff presented, the defense obviously decided not to waste resources on obtaining such testimony themselves.

    • It's Role-Playing. That it encourages people to think out their actions ahead of time. To bear in mind that there are sometimes life & death consequences to them. Ohhh wait… isn't that what part of prison is suppose to do?

    • Incorrect. One is sent to prison for rehabilitation, not punishment per se. As many prisoners have trouble with social interactions and following rules, playing a social game like D&D would seem to have at least some amount of rehabilitative value, particularly if its something prisoners willingly chose to do in their free time.

      • Haven't you all heard the stories out there in regards to people becoming too engrossed in D&D and doing some fucked up things? and you just finished saying that these people have trouble with social interactions and following rules….maybe they would take something too far or out of context and maybe they're just fucked as it is. Lets keep the fucking dumb ass criminals away from that kinda game.

      • Haven't you all heard the stories out there in regards to people becoming too engrossed in D&D and doing some fucked up things? and you just finished saying that these people have trouble with social interactions and following rules….maybe they would take something too far or out of context and maybe they're just fucked as it is. Lets keep the fucking dumb ass criminals away from that kinda game.

    • Incorrect. One is sent to prison for rehabilitation, not punishment per se. As many prisoners have trouble with social interactions and following rules, playing a social game like D&D would seem to have at least some amount of rehabilitative value, particularly if its something prisoners willingly chose to do in their free time.

    • You DO understand that the D&D played in prisons is ALL pencil & paper, don't you? What kind of "stuff" is that? Oh wait, the kind of "stuff' that keeps inmates out of trouble…..

    • You are an ass. I was locked up at a level 3 yard in Ca. P.V.S.P. to be precise. I did just shy of three years for receiving stolen property (a cell phone in '98).One of the only things that kept me out of a load of trouble was D&D. If you want to believe that prisons are built for rehabilitation then go ahead and keep that 'Delude Self' spell on permanently. You should make an informed decision and not a self righteous guess as to what works.

  7. im thinking this is an unconstitutional rulling.. i mean if its a person, then they are inocent until proven guilty, right? then why cant the game be deemed inosent until prove as a threat.. this guy shouldnt have to prove that its not a threat. the court should have to prove that it is. because for that matter. everything prisoners have access to can be a threat.

    • From the judges' comments, it appears the position in this case is that the prison's decisions are considered reasonable until proven unreasonable, which they felt the prisoner had failed to do.

  8. If you follow this kind of thinking then you have to come to the fact that religion promotes "gang-like" activity where members are encouraged to look to their leader above and beyond any other authority. Some religions pass out pamphlets and try to recruit at the drop of a hat. I don't think they'll be taking away Bibles etc.

  9. For starters… the dude's in prison and he's lost some of his rights, thus it's hard to make that case.

    When I attended church, we were told that D&D teaches kids (as young as 8 or 9 to murder, steal and rape other people). I have the suspicion that the judge may have seen the same video.

    However, I find it hard to believe that any prisoner doesn't think about getting out and doesn't need a game to help with that.

    • Its ridiculous to claim D&D teaches kids to murder, rape, and steal. Television, radio, newspaper, and the internet do.

  10. For starters… the dude's in prison and he's lost some of his rights, thus it's hard to make that case.

    When I attended church, we were told that D&D teaches kids (as young as 8 or 9 to murder, steal and rape other people). I have the suspicion that the judge may have seen the same video.

    However, I find it hard to believe that any prisoner doesn't think about getting out and doesn't need a game to help with that.

  11. I was in prison for three years, due to a traffic violation. While I was there, I tutored other inmates on the GED, took college correspondence classes, and yes – played a lot of D&D. Contrary to what the media would have you believe, there's very little violence in modern prisons. Mostly, it's just a long string of boredom and inactivity, time wasted spent sitting on your ass, when you could be out being a productive member of society (or unproductive, in some people's cases), but regardless, it's not exactly a mentally stimulating place.

    As a result, before it was banned, myself and some friends would spend hours playing D&D. Dice were not allowed ("gambling paraphernalia"), so we'd craft "spinners" by drawing concentric circles, each divided into rings of numbers, and put a straw on a paperclip, stuck through the center, so that we could spin it & have it land on a particular number, at random. Likewise, we crafted many other items to facilitate our play.

    I will always have fond memories of these groups, because while I'd have preferred to be working a job, paying taxes, and spending time with my family, since prison took those things away from me, I made do the best I could, to keep from going out of my mind, and getting stuck in the cycle of recidivism that is all-too-common in the US Prison Industrial Complex (lock someone up, don't give them any opportunities to improve themselves, surround them with other criminals, take away all their rights and make it virtually impossible for them to get a job when they get out, and voilà – they'll be back in again in no-time, and thus more $$$ for the people who operate the prisons!).

  12. So they're against any books that encourage escapism, following a leader, enforcement of rules, etc. Guess they better start taking away all those bibles. They're not going to do that though because you just know when you get right down to it that this was religiously motivated. They won't come right out and say it but there are plenty of prison authorities that promote religiosity. They're against D&D because they see it as "satanic" It not the threat they make it out to be though. Unlike some people RPers know their fantasy is just that and don't try to pretend that it's real. Unlike some others.

    • I disagree with it being a religious based bias. There's really no proof of that. I was brought up and am still a practicing born again Christian. I also grew up reading comic books and once it was invented, began gaming in college. I've never seen a conflict between the two. If I had to guess, I'd say this is more of a case of someone in authority being petty and busting the chops of someone who was being successful at making the best of a bad situation. The person objecting to the gaming is probably a miserable person and resents the obvious fun being had while gaming. It is regrettable that these particular inmates have had their privileges revoked regarding DnD, a game that continues to do nothing but reinforce positive concepts to me and my group. I would hope some principled attorney would champion their cause…

      • YOU don't see a conflict, others DO.

        This is a positive reflection on you…
        …unless I'm a religious leader and believe you should believe me when I tell you there is a conflict; then I'd think it a negative reflection. :)

  13. I'm sick of being mugged by wizards and elves. Only the other day a halfing took my car for a joyride then torched it. The sooner they learn a lesson, the better

  14. The whole thing that amuses me best is that these people are in prison because they SUCK AT FOLLOWING RULES.

    They FINALLY start to figure that out, and you take away the tool that teaches them. WELL DONE, U.S. PRISON SYSTEM. WELL DONE.

  15. The whole thing that amuses me best is that these people are in prison because they SUCK AT FOLLOWING RULES.

    They FINALLY start to figure that out, and you take away the tool that teaches them. WELL DONE, U.S. PRISON SYSTEM. WELL DONE.

  16. Holy crap… they actually ruled that the petitioner had to prove a negative?? My question is, how did this even make it to the Supreme Court – it never should have been passed by the original body. In the original case it should have had to have been proven that the possibility of a D&D-fueled uprising justifiably existed, preferrably through examples of past incidents.

    Nutso!

  17. W T F!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?! If anything D&D helped me get out of my shell, made wonderful friends, traveled the country to conventions. Won prizes because I was a damn good role player. Without staying involved in the SF/F culture I would never have met my husband. Is organized sports next? They have a leader and roles to play and specific duties to perform.

  18. I dunno… those d4 are pretty dangerous.

    If you get a 2-pound bag of those to cover a 5-foot square area, those will do 1 point of damage to the guards and reduce their speed by one-half because of their feet being wounded…

    • And if you get a bag full of dice, and take a level of rogue, you can club others with it for 2d6 nonlethal. The guards will be dropping like flies!

  19. W T F!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?! If anything D&D helped me get out of my shell, made wonderful friends, traveled the country to conventions. Won prizes because I was a damn good role player. Without staying involved in the SF/F culture I would never have met my husband. Is organized sports next? They have a leader and roles to play and specific duties to perform.

  20. Well ya know…. they could use their +5 sword of epsilom along with their +3 wand of distruction. That along with their mithral armor well… OF COURSE this game is dangerous!!!! ;p
    about a minute ago · Like

  21. Ok, to be fair, you have to read the entire thing to understand the ruling. This isn't a ruling about D&D in general. This is a ruling against one man who tried to prove this was a violation of the first ammendment and did a sucky job at it.

    It explains that the guy locked up was under the burden of proof (mainly do to presidents set in past court cases). And the prision officials were able to show proof of people who had committed violence in relation to D&D (even if they were insane). The prisioner didn't reply to any of the concerns and just tried to say "nuh uh!"

    I am an avid D&D player and this kinda a story drives me nuts because it makes D&D look bad. But this isn't a broad statement about D&D dispite the press. This is a "you have no evidence to prove your case" statement. I didn't like some of the ruling but it was fair overall.

    • Fair overall… due, somewhat, to deficiencies in the legal system. Esp'ly deficiencies magnified if you be in prison already. Surely a good legal team could have nixxed this… but where does a prisoner find (afford) one of those?

      I guess I'd have to agree w/ the idea, above, that the game publishers might should have thrown in to defend their product…

  22. Really?? I would argue by their same definition/rule that prison needs to ban team sports (basketball, baseball,…) because in sports you cooperatively work together at the direction of a "leader" or coach. If they are allowing sports they shouldn't treat D&D any differently.

  23. Ive just read the ruling, pg 18 is interesting:
    "However, we are not convinced that the ban is as unyieldingly
    categorical as Singer makes it out to be. He
    argues that the ban precludes him from playing D&D and
    therefore he has no alternative means to play D&D. That
    may be true, but, as the district court pointed out in
    discounting this circular argument, Singer still has access
    to other allowable games, reading material, and leisure
    activities."
    If I were him, I would start playing Runequest, Rolemaster, Palladium, Warhammer FRPG, White Wolf and other RPGS!!!!

  24. These people are idiots. Authorities blame video games for gun violence then stop making the video games. Now RP games are being blamed for gang violence when gang violence has been around longer than DnD. Gary Gygax created the game because his kids were into mythology and wanted to make something for his kids for appropriate play. idiots. period.

    • shakes his head in shock of the level of stupidity. If these criminals were violent before playing DnD, whats the difference. Grrrrrrr.
      I agree with all who said they are learning to follow rules and acceptable behavior inside of the game limits. The kids back in the 70s who killed themselves in the sewers were a bit broke before they went into those sewers or just had a fatal accident while LARPing.

  25. When evaluating this decision it’s essential to consider just how bad gang related activity has gotten in prison, especially in maximum security facilities. There’s a lot of gang violence, almost all of it race-related, and pretty much anything that encourages formations of teams would probably exacerbate that. You also have to remember that, considering the guy making the appeal was convicted of a stabbing, he’d be trying to play DnD in a maximum security facility, meaning most of the inmates are probably more inclined to violence over small arguments, such as the type that would spring up over a DnD game.

    • Well, yeah, MeanJoe. Thing is, how are these people meant to learn not to respond to small arguments by stabbing people if they are denied the opportunity to practice?

      D&D is a great social-skills trainer. If you bulldoze the game or ignore the rules, it's not much fun and you'll figure that out after a while, or nobody will play with you. Conflicts arise in the group and you resolve them using a manual, the player's own sense of fairness, fun, and realism, and the decisions of a mutually-agreed-upon arbitor.

      Of course D&D isn't a 1st Amendment /right/ but the authorities are being silly. D&D creates a risk that prisoners will consult DMs (peers, equals) instead of "the prison’s own carefully constructed hierarchy of authority, for guidance and dispute resolution." ??? WTF, that's a /risk/? That's /desirable/. Unless you're trying to train prisoners to be even /less/ able to function away from the prison heirarchy. Oh. Wait

  26. When evaluating this decision it's essential to consider just how bad gang related activity has gotten in prison, especially in maximum security facilities. There's a lot of gang violence, almost all of it race-related, and pretty much anything that encourages formations of teams would probably exacerbate that. You also have to remember that, considering the guy making the appeal was convicted of a stabbing, he'd be trying to play DnD in a maximum security facility, meaning most of the inmates are probably more inclined to violence over small arguments, such as the type that would spring up over a DnD game.

  27. "In conclusion, the judges pointed out that Singer had failed in his duty to prove conclusively that D&D could not lead to gang activity."

    Reason #1803 why I have zero respect for the judicial system. It only works when it's not manned by hearbreakingly stupid people.

  28. You can also theoretically have a role playing session without guidebooks or materials. You only need dice for randomization and they can't confiscate all dice if they're leaving monopoly available. What they are banning is a very specific system, and even if it did pose a threat this wouldn't contain it if someone wanted to get around the prison rules.

  29. And by the same standards, sports should be banned, considering they "might have lead" OJ to kill his wife.