Violent Video Games at Whiting Forensic

Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto and more.

You may have heard of these popular video games with sometimes violent content.

Johnny Tirado stepped forward to let officials know that some of the state's most dangerous psychiatric patients had been playing these games, sometimes daily.

Tirado works for Connecticut's Whiting Forensic Division, in its maximum security psychiatric hospital. In March the forensic nurse raised concerns with management about violent video games some patients played.

The hospital procedure manual indicates games with violent content are prohibited for minimum security patients at Whiting, but not maximum security.

Staffers said patients that were allowed to play the violent video games have been committed to Whiting for crimes including murder, sexual assault and arson.

"At what point does the virtual world become the reality? And not to say that that's going to happen but you know how do we know that they're not exercising their fantasies through these video games?" Tirado asks.

Staffers confirm to the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters that one of the patients who was permitted to play these violent video games is Stephen Morgan. In 2011, Morgan was found not guilty by reason of insanity for shooting and killing Wesleyan student Johanna Justin-Jinich at an off-campus bookstore in Middletown.

"I hate the fact that his name and the word 'play' are even possible. I did not want his rehabilitation. I wanted his incarceration. I am disgusted that he gets to be there instead of a prison, that he gets to play games, even violent ones. This is not enough punishment or justice for me," Justin-Jinich's uncle said.

Justin-Jinich's roommate her final year at Wesleyan has similar sentiments.

"It's just a matter, of coming from a moral standpoint, just coming from an emotional standpoint, is this what, someone who took someone's life away deserves, should they be allowed to have a recreation in a mental institution where they can enact the very things that they committed in real life," Justin Bours told the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters.

Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, the commissioner of The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), the agency overseeing Whiting, said in the past few weeks, all the violent video games have been removed, not because of Tirado or NBC Connecticut's questions, but rather because management has constant discussions about what it permits.

While the commissioner cannot speak about individual cases, she said violent video games have been permitted on a case-by-case basis because they can be used as a tool to explore where a patient is in the recovery process.

"From a clinical perspective, there could be value in that. You know, 'How did you feel before playing the video?' and 'How do you feel now after having played it?', 'What other thoughts or feelings or memories does it bring up?'" Delphin-Rittmon said.

Morgan’s attorney cannot confirm the nature of the video games his client played. Even so, the use of violent video games by psychiatric patients has the mental health community divided. NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters spoke with two university professors. Both caution while there is little research on the impact on adult patients, they can respond differently.

  • Rutgers Newark: Professor Dr. Paul Boxer said "In my opinion what I know about the research and the clinical work that I have done throughout my career, violent video games are not necessarily a positive thing. They are not something I would ever recommend in the clinical treatment of someone under my care."
  • Stetson University: Professor Dr. Chris Ferguson said, "The institution probably could defend this choice. Again, we don't really have evidence to suggest that violent video games are harmful. And in some cases it may actually be de-stressing for some of the patients on the unit."

The commissioner agrees with the latter, pointing out many of the patients stay at Whiting for a decade or more, "Some of our work is to create an environment that gives people some of the same freedoms that they've experienced not in a hospital environment, or similar freedoms as individuals that are not diagnosed."

Don't forget, many of those patients at Whiting, including Stephen Morgan, who killed a woman, are not always there for life. The hospital is trying to rehabilitate them so they might one day have off-campus privileges or be discharged altogether.

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