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Banana Boxes Donated to Texas Prison Contain $18M of Cocaine

Often dubbed "the world's most popular fruit," the banana is quite versatile. Who knew it could help smuggle cocaine? And not just a small amount. At a prison in Texas, banana boxes were used to smuggle $18 million of cocaine.

The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution clearly prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. But what it doesn't clearly do is describe what punishments, exactly, are cruel and unusual. That's been left up to the courts.

And while one could argue that ending a person's life is the cruelest thing the criminal justice system could do, courts have allowed the death penalty to exist while outlawing some lesser punishments. So how do judges decide what's permitted and what's cruel and unusual?

Lawsuit: Denying Methadone to Prisoners Is Cruel and Unusual

Shouldn't prisons try to save those who save themselves?

An opioid dependent inmate at the Middleton Hall of Corrections has found himself in jail for 60 days for driving to the pharmacy on a suspended license to pick up his three day supply of methadone. Geoffrey Pesce had exhausted all other options of getting to the pharmacy and he truly feared relapsing after being clean for two years. Pesce is not trying to escape this sentence. He just wants the prison to honor the prescription for methadone he has honored for the past two years, to the point of losing his freedom for 60 days in jail to make sure he took his medication.

Fentanyl Used in Execution Cocktail for the First Time

Nebraska recently held its first execution in 21 years, its first by lethal injection, and a first in history to use fentanyl. In an interesting turn of events, this drug, which has been at the center of America's opioid epidemic, is now being used to execute prisoners in the very same prison which houses recovered opioid addicts.

You may have heard you get one free phone call when you're arrested. You may not have heard how much phone calls from prison can cost after that, or how much cities, counties, and telecommunications companies are making off those calls.

One fewer city, however, will be profiting from jail phone calls. New York City is making phone calls from its jails free. On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill into law eliminate the charges, and eliminating about $5 million per year in city revenue from such calls.

It's a classic line from a classic movie. Michael Bolton (the character), worried that the group's plan of siphoning off pennies from their employer in "Office Space" is unraveling, lays out the doomsday scenario: "We get caught laundering money, we're not going to white-collar resort prison. No, no, no. We're going to federal pound-me-in-the-a** prison."

Distasteful prison rape jokes aside, the bit belies a common perception among laypeople that there are brutal prison conditions for the poor or unfortunate, and country club prisons for the rich and powerful. And revelations from Paul Manafort's "VIP" incarceration this week did little to dispel that belief.

Few people imagine prison as a pleasant place to be. Now imagine being incarcerated without your ability to hear. On top of that, try complying with court-ordered programs, advocating for your release, or even navigating the complex social structures of a prison while deaf.

The situation already sounds dire, and states have been accused of making a bad situation even worse. Legal actions in both Georgia and California claim state-run prisons have failed to provide deaf and hard-of-hearing inmates interpreters and other tools necessary to effectively communicate with fellow inmates, staff, and specialists.

Do Prison Inmates Have Meal Option Rights?

Prison inmates are not granted the same rights as free citizens. Their rights should be limited. But to what extent? Surely they have the right to practice religion, guaranteed by the First Amendment. In fact, in many prisons, the practice of religion is encouraged. But what if such practice requires dietary restrictions?

In a recent case, a New York inmate, David "DeAndre" Williams, claimed that as a devout practicing Nazarite Jew with a dairy allergy, he couldn't eat the meat, vined fruit, or dairy products in prison meals. When served these items, he tried to trade with fellow inmates, but was reprimanded since food trading violated prison rules. Williams claimed he hasn't had "three hots a day" for the last seven years, and has sued the state to get accommodating prison meals. Is this fair?

Can Pregnant Inmates Be Forced to Give Birth in Jail?

Childbirth is stressful. And it's really, really hard. Sure, the experience is also other-worldly miraculous, but between the pain and the uncertainty, pretty much every woman wants to get it over with as quickly as possible to meet that tiny baby who's been breakdancing inside her for months. But as difficult as your standard labor is, imagine giving birth in jail.

Over the years, pregnant women have been forced to give birth in jail, either because their labor progressed too rapidly, or because they were not cared for quickly enough. In a recent case, a Texas woman claims guards actually ignored her cries for help, forcing her to give birth to her son in her jail cell.

What Happens When Sentences Are Ruled Unconstitutional?

The fascinating thing about law is that it's always changing. Whether legislators create new ones or the judiciary clarifies or invalidates existing ones, what was legal yesterday might not be legal tomorrow. This is certainly true in the realm of criminal procedure and criminal justice, where prosecutors, law enforcement, defense attorneys, and civil rights activists all battle over what justice and public safety look like.

But what happens when the law changes? Does it also change for people convicted before the new law took effect? For example, of interest to the U.S. population living in prison, what happens when sentences are ruled unconstitutional?