Calls grow for laptop access in New Jersey prisons

By: - August 29, 2023 6:53 am

Several men incarcerated at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton have been fighting for access to laptop computers. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

The Inmate Legal Association has joined an incarcerated man’s crusade to get laptop computers in prison.

Stacey Faulcon, who’s been incarcerated at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton since 1997, sent a letter earlier this month on behalf of the association and prison paralegals urging state corrections officials and ombudsperson Terry Schuster to permit incarcerated people “to move into the 21st Century.”

Faulcon noted that other jails have successfully allowed incarcerated people to use computers. The Bergen County Jail recently created a computer lab for incarcerated people to read material related to their criminal cases, according to the Bergen County Bar Association.

Advocates say computer access behind bars can improve both communication with the outside and digital literacy, helping people better reenter society when they leave prison. New Jersey prisons don’t allow internet access or laptops but have made tablet computers available since 2015 for incarcerated people to send email and videograms, download digital books, games, and music, and transfer money through a system called JPay.

“The introduction of tablets has been, for a lack of a better word, a godsend to the inmate population,” Faulcon wrote. “We believe laptops would have an even greater impact on the goal of productive rehabilitation.”

Faulcon offered to draft a proposal that would include security features like digital fingerprinting on all electronic devices.

With computers banned behind bars because of security concerns, incarcerated people use word processors to draft legal paperwork and communicate with loved ones. But those devices and parts have become increasingly obsolete, Faulcon noted.

“My machine has been non-functioning since 2019, and no one has the parts necessary to repair it,” Faulcon wrote.

He added that almost all public defenders provide discovery and transcripts on thumb drives.

“My trial generated more than 6,000 pages of material. This was greatly magnified over the course of my 27 years of incarceration,” he said.

Spokespeople for the state Department of Corrections did not respond to the New Jersey Monitor’s questions about the issue.

Faulcon’s plea comes almost eight months after LaShawn Fitch, who’s also incarcerated in Trenton, filed a complaint in state Superior Court to compel state corrections officials to provide a fuller response to a grievance he filed last fall pushing for laptop access.

That effort failed. A judge in July granted the state’s motion to dismiss Fitch’s complaint, and earlier this month, shot down Fitch’s subsequent motion to reinstate his case.

Fitch told the New Jersey Monitor he hasn’t given up and has filed a motion for reconsideration.

“We put in multiple proposals that are falling on deaf ears,” he said.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.