The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court’s decision banning the playing of Dungeons & Dragons in a Wisconsin Prison. According to the AP:
Prison officials enacted the ban in 2004 after an inmate sent an anonymous letter expressing concern about Singer [the prisoner] and three other inmates forming a “gang” focused around playing the game.
Singer was told by prison officials that he could not keep the materials because Dungeons & Dragons “promotes fantasy role playing, competitive hostility, violence, addictive escape behaviors, and possible gambling,” according to the ruling. The prison later developed a more comprehensive policy against all types of fantasy games, the court said.
A copy of the opinion can be downloaded from here.
The evidence relied upon by the court come largely from the prison’s gang specialist Captain Muraski.
Muraski testified that Waupun’s prohibition on role-playing and fantasy games was intended to serve two purposes. The first aim Muraski cited was the maintenance of prison security. He explained that the policy was intended to promote prison security because cooperative games can mimic the organization of gangs and lead to the actual development thereof. Muraski 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. At bottom, his testimony about this policy aim highlighted Waupun’s worries about cooperative activity among inmates, particularly that carried out in an organized, hierarchical fashion. Muraski’s second asserted governmental interest in the D&D ban was inmate rehabilitation. He testified that D&D can “foster an inmate’s obsession with escaping from the
real life, correctional environment, fostering hostility, violence and escape behavior,” which in turn “can compromise not only the inmate’s rehabilitation and effects of positive programming but also endanger the public and jeopardize the safety and security of the institution.”
As ridiculous as this opinion may seem at first blush, the court was careful to point out that the question before it was not whether D&D could lead to gang behavior, it was whether the prison’s rule was reasonable.
It is true that Singer procured an impressive trove of affidavit testimony, including some from role-playing game experts, but none of his affiants’ testimony addressed the inquiry at issue here. The question is not whether D&D has led to gang behavior in the past; the prison officials concede that it has not. The question is whether the prison officials are rational in their belief that, if left unchecked, D&D could lead to gang behavior among inmates and undermine prison security in the future. Singer’s affiants demonstrate significant personal knowledge about D&D’s rules and gameplay, and offertheir own assessments that D&D does not lead to gang behavior, but they lack the qualifications necessary to
determine whether the relationship between the D&D ban and the maintenance of prison security is “so remote as to render the policy arbitrary or irrational.” Turner, 482 U.S. at 89-90. In other words, none of them is sufficiently versed in prison security concerns to raise a genuine issue of material fact about their relationship to D&D. (Of course, many of Singer’s affiants are present or former inmates, but their experiential “expertise” in prison security is from the wrong side of the bars and fails to match Muraski’s perspective.) The expertise critical here is that relating to prisons, their security, and the prevention of prison gang activity. Singer’s affiants conspicuously lack such expertise.
For a more humorous look at this opinion, check out this post at Above the Law.