Two years ago, inmates at the Bent County Correctional Facility in Las Animas started playing video games to help while away long hours of lengthy prison sentences.

Video gaming has become accepted as a form of recreation for inmates at the privately owned Bent and at other prisons run by the state.

"One of the goals is to keep offenders occupied with a productive activity," said Steve Owen, a spokesman for Corrections Corp. of America, which owns Bent and runs prisons in Kit Carson, Crowley and Huerfano counties.

Twenty-six inmates at Bent who are considered nonviolent offenders are participating in a video-game program, Owen said.

The inmates earn the right to use the interactive equipment after they complete daily work assignments and treatment and education programs, Owen said.

The video games are strictly limited to sports-related themes, including basketball, football and auto racing. Controversial games where characters are killed or violently assaulted are prohibited.

If inmates abuse the rules or are disciplined for bad behavior, they lose the privilege to play video games for one year.

The PlayStation consoles and games are individually purchased by inmates with money they earn from jobs, and they are not paid for by taxpayer dollars, Owen said.

In Colorado, inmates serving time at state-run medium-security prisons – including Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility in Crowley County and Fremont Correctional Facility and Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility, both in Cañon City – are allowed to play video games.

Inmates at the state-run prisons also pay to play video games and buy consoles and games by using "canteen" money earned from working or funds given to them by family and friends, state prison officials said.

"It keeps them busy, and a busy inmate is less likely to be a management problem," said Katherine Sanguinetti , a spokeswoman with the Colorado Department of Corrections.

At Bent County Correctional Facility, video games are one of several programs available for inmates who receive educational, vocational and academic treatment for addictions. The inmates also run a recycling center and record books for people who are blind or who have learning disabilities.

Mistreated or dissatisfied prisoners can result in inmate uprisings.

In 2004, a riot erupted at the Crowley County Correctional Facility, which is owned by the Corrections Corp. of America. Inmates destroyed two of five buildings, and by the time it was over, 13 inmates required medical attention. One was stabbed but survived.

Outside prisons, video gaming offers social opportunities for people who get together to play. But for prisoners who live in a solitary and confined world, it’s another method prison officials use to keep inmates’ time occupied.

"It’s a means to keep their behavior in check," said Joe Sandoval, a criminal justice professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver. "But if managed correctly, it provides an additional alternative for inmates to entertain themselves."