Missouri's most violent criminals can no longer play video games that simulate murders, carjackings and the killing of police officers, a decision reached after prison officials were told about the content.
"We didn't closely review these," Dave Dormire, superintendent of the Jefferson City Correctional Center, told The Kansas City Star. "We were told these games had more like cartoon violence."
The Star reported Thursday the state's new maximum-security prison pulled dozens of violent Sony PlayStation 2 games from its recreation center on Wednesday, after officials were alerted to their content by a reporter. Inmates had been using them for months.
In fact, the prison's PlayStation offerings included one of the most violent games on the market, "Hitman: Contracts," in which players use everything from meat hooks to silencer-equipped pistols to carry out brutal contract killings.
In all, 35 of the facility's more than 80 games were removed. Others remain, including science fiction and sports games.
The games were paid for from inmates' purchases — mostly of snacks — at the prison canteen. The canteen generates up to $20,000 monthly and a committee of corrections officials, prison staffers and several inmates decides how to spend it.
Much of the cash is used for weightlifting and exercise equipment. Video games are a new purchase in Jefferson City; prison officials say other facilities have done the same, though it doesn't appear to be the norm.
"It has a good effect on helping us run the prison and make sure they're busy and not trying to work on ways to escape or harm others," Dormire said. "That's kind of our bottom line — public safety."
Some corrections experts were shocked that violent games would be allowed in the hands of violent prisoners.
Jacqueline Helfgott, a professor at Seattle University who has studied the effects of violent movies and video games on criminal behavior, said such media can have a negative effect on inmates.
"You get people in a maximum-security prison who have already gone over the line," she said. "They're not afraid to engage in violence, unlike the nerd sitting in front of his computer."
Jim Houston, a professor of criminal justice at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Mich., agreed.
"These kinds of games reinforce a criminal lifestyle that caused them to get into prison in the first place," Houston said.
Mary Still, a spokeswoman for Gov. Bob Holden, said the governor believes violent games are inappropriate for prisoners. The governor does not oppose nonviolent video games for inmates, but says they should not come at taxpayer expense.
The $128 million Jefferson City Correctional Center opened in September to replace the 170-year-old Missouri State Penitentiary. It has 1,996 beds.