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)