Gaming in Prison

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Have you ever asked gamers what they get from their preferred gaming activity such that it is their go-to hobby during downtime?

If so, chances are you’ve received answers like “I feel freer when I’m playing video games” or “Games provide a temporary escape from my boring daily routine.”

In any case, these people believe that gaming gives them a sense of autonomy amid their dreaded duties and “suffocating” circumstances.

One could only imagine how this longing for diversion applies to inmates accustomed to a rigid, repetitive everyday life in prison.

Suppose you, a friend, or a loved one is in prison. In that case, you might want to know if incarcerated individuals can access video games while serving prison sentences.

Also, what types of video games can incarcerated people play in jails or prisons? In addition, you might also wonder whether gaming has any rehabilitative benefits for inmates. offers comprehensive information on correctional facilities in New York, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and other states, including prison regulations regarding video games.

With this information, you’ll learn about whether inmates can play video games in prison and the potential advantages and disadvantages of this recreational activity.

Video Games in Prison

People have different views on whether playing video games positively or negatively impacts prison life.

Some might view the activity from the standpoint of a prison reform advocate and see it as an indicator of a more humane prison experience.

On the other hand, others might think that video games are counter-productive to rehabilitation.

No matter what opinion people have regarding video games in prison, there are various reasons why prison authorities allow inmates to play them.

For example, some prisons might offer gaming activities to keep inmates distracted and help them ease stress. Meanwhile, some prison programs might use game-based learning to help with rehab.

Do Inmates Have Access to Video Games?

Inmate access to video games is a fringe topic that might have never crossed most people’s minds. Still, it touches on significant prison-related issues like rehabilitation, mental health care, and civil liberties.

In the United States, prison telco companies like Securus and Global Tel-Link offer paying inmates from public and private prisons the opportunity to access video games.

Some see this service as a means to help inmates “experience,” if even for a brief time, life outside a restrictive environment.

However, critics are skeptical about the companies’ motivations for offering pay-to-play video game access. They think the service is just one of the many ways capitalists extract money from inmates.

You see, prison is not as fun or “sexy” as some prison-themed shows, such as Orange Is The New Black, portray on screen.

Whether in a county jail or state prison, inmates pay their debts to society. As such, they are generally expected to perform grueling physical labor, survive on barely edible food, and get along with fellow inmates, “prison guards,” and other corrections officers in charge of them.

Still, even in maximum security prisons, people must find ways to entertain themselves. Therefore, some countries’ facilities allow inmates to play video games.

Video Games in Prison: A Pro for the Cons

As indicated above, some prisons working with telco companies offer inmates the chance to play video games.

These telco firms work with correctional institutions to ensure that the games they offer are not security threats.

For example, one report said that the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) allows good-standing inmates to buy Xbox products and other controllers.

In addition, Oregon’s DOC stated that instead of a game console in a shared room, some inmates could keep them in their cells.

Each facility may vary on what gaming consoles they can provide. Some facilities have Xboxes, some have PlayStation, and others have both.

Supporters say playing video games encourage better behavior. At the same time, critics say that selling video games to inmates is just another money-making opportunity for capitalists.

Still, others feel video games might only trigger aggression among inmates, especially games that contain violence, such as Call of Duty (COD).

Fight for Your Right to Game

While some believe video games in prison are inappropriate because they may cause aggression among inmates, others agree that games provide stress relief and create a sense of community among the prison population.

That’s why inmates and their advocates urge institutions to grant inmate access to permissible video games under proper circumstances and in a controlled environment.

Years ago, facilities in the United Kingdom began allowing well-behaved inmates to play video games using more up-to-date gaming consoles.

U.K. inmates were initially stuck with “ancient” consoles like the PlayStation 2 (PS2) and the original Xbox. The revised policy granted them access to newer consoles like PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

However, there are usually caveats to such provisions. For one, console access is expensive. Secondly, the consoles should have no internet or Wi-Fi access.

This rule could mean inmates cannot access multiplayer gameplay in games like Call of Duty or participate in eSports events.

Still, such rules likely do not bother the inmates, who are just thrilled to have their consoles.

Video games aren’t merely passive entertainment for many individuals behind bars. Gaming could take on a new significance for these people who constantly strive to improve their situations.

Being in a cell alone, isolated at night, could be a uniquely challenging experience for many inmates. A Society and Mental Health study showed that inmate boredom resulting from inactivity and lack of recreational activities is associated with depression and aggressive behavior.

Sure, inmates might keep themselves entertained by watching TV. However, they can only watch so much because only a few channels are available.

At the same time, some might suggest that inmates dedicate their free time to writing letters and reading books in the facility’s library.

However, not all inmates are literate, and many likely have little to no schooling experience. These unfortunate circumstances might be why many inmates have trouble seeing learning activities as leisure.

Fortunately, video games could be a viable alternative solution to inmate boredom. Moreover, gaming might help bring inmates together.

These things illustrate how gaming can be a valuable rehabilitation tool behind bars. For those seeking self-improvement and reintegrating into society, video games can provide a way to connect with like-minded individuals.

Whether in prison or not, players can make great memories together playing FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) or Call of Duty.

What Type of Gaming Consoles Do You Have in Jails and Prisons?

Gaming experience inside prison dividers differs from the free world. For instance, detainees don’t usually have access to newer models of the Xbox, Playstation, or other gaming consoles.

However, prisons across the U.S. have begun prisoner tablet programs, with some DOCs distributing tablets out of their budget and others letting detainees with money buy the devices.

The associations or companies that offer these tablets must share what games are available on the device.

Unfortunately, tablet games in prison can be costly, and many prisoners aren’t eager to spend much money on a game.

Can You Have an Xbox or a Playstation in Prison?

As indicated above, inmates can have a Playstation or Xbox in prison, depending on the jurisdiction that governs them. Also, inmates might have to purchase the consoles since prisons do not usually provide them.

Some facilities might require consoles to be obtained externally, with strict restrictions on their use.

However, some prisons will not allow outside consoles to operate as video game devices but will provide tablets instead.

Over the years, some U.S. facilities, like those under the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, have launched tablet programs for inmates.

The Department of Corrections could provide these devices. And if these gadgets aren’t DOC-owned, the prisoner must buy them from the commissary.

These tablets often have games pre-loaded onto them and require strict monitoring. Many games cost around $5 to $10, usually Solitaire or similar games.

In most cases, inmates rarely find these games entertaining since their quality isn’t outstanding, and the cost is far higher than the amount they’re willing to pay.

Can You Play Online Video Games in Jail or Prison?

Correctional facilities do not generally allow inmates to have internet access. That’s why gaming consoles do not guarantee inmate participation in online games.

Another restriction to bringing consoles into prison might be that the consoles feature older-generation games.

Newer generation consoles are prohibited since they usually require the internet to function fully.

Older systems do not require internet access at all. For the most part, retro consoles like the original PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, Game Boy, and Super Nintendo do not use internet access and are thus suitable for prison use.

Benefits of Playing Video Games in Prison

There is a common misconception that video games are merely mindless distractions.

Although video game addiction can be a significant problem, for the most part, video games have beneficial effects on the body.

Here are some ways gaming might benefit people’s brains and bodies:

  • Improve cognitive functions
  • Improve problem-solving skills and logical thinking
  • Develop the ability to multitask effectively
  • Provide a way to prevent inmates from causing trouble by keeping them busy
  • Increase hand and eye coordination and better decision-making abilities

Do Video Games Help With Inmate Rehabilitation?

As mentioned above, countries like the U.K. and the U.S. have facilities allowing inmates to play real video games on consoles. These institutions might do so because they believe video games could aid in inmate rehabilitation.

Should Inmates Be Allowed to Play Video Games in Prison?

The answer to this inquiry differs from person to person, depending on which factor they highlight.

For example, some may argue that inmates should be allowed to play video games in prison because they think games can improve concentration, relieve stress, or teach essential skills such as problem-solving, communication, and collaboration.

Moreover, prison reform advocates might say video games can also serve as a reward system, offering incentives for inmates to behave well.

On the other hand, some individuals might argue that video games can harm inmates. For instance, video games can be addictive, leading inmates to play too much rather than work on their rehabilitation or reform.

In addition, others might say that violent video games could desensitize inmates to violence, increasing their risk of violent behavior.

More research is necessary to understand further the implications of granting inmates video game access.

What Are the Available Video Games for Inmates in Prison or Jail?

Each institution may vary regarding the video games they allow inmates to play. Here are some games that might be available for people serving time in prison or jail:

  • Call of Duty (COD)
  • Destiny
  • Forza Motorsport
  • FIFA
  • Guitar Hero

Bonds Behind Bars

Video games aren’t just passive entertainment for people behind bars. Gaming allows inmates to engage in a positive activity, which could give them a sense of purpose.

Playing video games can also unite fellow inmates by encouraging cooperation and communication, which might benefit their mental health.

Video games can also help inmates bond in prison. Gaming can provide a way out from the boredom and stress of life behind bars and a way to connect with others meaningfully.

It can cultivate relationships and a sense of community in a place where those things are rarely found.


While some institutions allow internet access to video games, most prisons have no online gaming opportunities. In fact, many prisons strictly restrict what inmates can and cannot do online.

The restricted access varies from country to country. Still, in many cases, people usually use the internet for communication –  meaning inmates can sometimes only use email.

There is some wiggle room for internet access in some places. However, inmates must show initiative to earn the trust of the officers in charge.

The Same, but Different

In some cases, inmates can play video games with internet access after undergoing a vetting process by prison staff.

This procedure typically includes a review of the inmate’s behavior to ensure they are not accessing unlawful websites or violating any laws.

The inmates are then given limited access to the internet, with strict monitoring to ensure they follow the rules.

While some facilities allow inmates to play video games, what people can access outside prison walls is a different topic altogether.

Still, free members of society shouldn’t deny someone behind bars the chance to have the same fun as you as long as they try to better themselves.

Remember not to bring in contraband, or you will experience real-life “game over.”


1. The Catalog of Carceral Surveillance: Prison Gaming and AR/VR Services
2. Inmate Mental Health and the Pains of Imprisonment
3. Tablets and Telephone Calls

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